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Published January 2, 2018
KAY COUNTY, OKLAHOMA – The Department of Homeland Security notified Cherokee Nation on Dec. 21 that it will suspend plans to conduct nonhazardous biochemical tests at Chilocco Indian School in Kay County near the Kansas border. The Cherokee Nation sent a letter to the agency on Nov. 13, 2017, objecting to the proposed tests on several grounds.
“For nearly a hundred years, Indians from across the United States, including generations of Cherokees, were sent to Chilocco boarding school,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “Chilocco is sacred ground for thousands of Indian families. Any proposed plans for that site should undergo the utmost scrutiny, and take into consideration the cultural, historical and emotional significance for the tribes and families that are forever tied to that institution.”
Most notably, the Cherokee Nation objected to the testing based on the federal government’s noncompliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The Act requires the federal government to consider historic properties that may have cultural or historic significance to Indian tribes, and also to consider the effects of their actions on historic properties.
The Kaw Nation, Otoe-Missouria Tribe, Pawnee Nation, Ponca Nation, Tonkawa Tribe and Cherokee Nation each own land surrounding Chilocco. The Indian agricultural and vocational boarding school operated from 1884 until its closure in 1980.
In its response letter, DHS said it appreciates the concerns raised by the Cherokee Nation and received many comments objecting to the proposed tests during the public comment period. While stressing that the materials used in the proposed testing were nonhazardous, DHS went on to say that due to the comments received from tribes, state and local governments, as well as residents in the area, proposed testing would be suspended. Many citizens of the Cherokee Nation and other tribes had rallied in opposition to the testing.
“While the work remains very important for the security of our nation, further evaluation will be conducted to identify the best location for future testing,” said William N. Bryan, a senior official with the Department of Homeland Security. “DHS appreciates the engagement and work of tribal leadership and staff in this effort and looks forward to our continuing government to government partnership with each tribal nation.”
The testing would have used materials that are nonhazardous to humans to replicate how an aerosol or bacterial attack might move through modern homes and buildings using HVAC systems. Some buildings at Chilocco had been updated with modern HVAC systems to help replicate such an attack. The announcement last fall caught many in the area and those with ties to Chilocco off guard.
“This demonstrates what we’re capable of when we mobilize around a common cause,” said Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. “When individual citizens come together with tribal and local governments to have our voices heard, we’re capable of creating meaningful change, or in this case, protecting a site that is of special significance to many Native people.”
Chilocco was one of several Indian boarding schools known for its strict military-style daily regimen, and goal of assimilation of Native Americans through religious teachings, discouragement of Native hair styles and clothing, and deterrence of Native languages. Despite the conditions at the school, many students created meaningful relationships and bonds that exist still today.
In all, students from 124 tribes attended Chilocco, and according the Chilocco Alumni Association, more than 8,500 graduated with a high school diploma or technical degree. The Chilocco Alumni Association holds regular meetings, inducts an alumni hall of fame each hear and holds an annual reunion. Learn more at www.chiloccoalumni.org.