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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Eastern Band Opens Long-Awaited New School Campus
by Jon Ostendorff - Asheville (NC) Citizen-Times
credits: all photos by Erin Brethauer (

CHEROKEE — The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians on Friday opened its new school complex on land it acquired five years ago in a trade with the National Park Service.

The 473,000-square-foot complex houses elementary, middle and high school students in a facility that makes use of cultural imagery and design. The Eastern Band built the $140 million campus on the 143-acre Ravensford Tract.

The Eastern Band got the land near the Big Cove community in a trade with the federal government in which the tribe gave up a 218-acre parcel known as the Yellow Face Tract along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ravensford had been part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The tribe had sought Ravensford since 1971, initially for an 18-hole golf course.

The Eastern Band in 1994 first asked that Ravensford be transferred for a new school complex to replace its crowded schools, which were built in the 1960s and '70s.

Cherokee Elementary School, at the time, was serving 800 students but was built for 400.

Kindergarten teacher Trina Appleton and her 7-year-old daughter, Maiya Davis, were among those at the Friday opening ceremony.

At the old elementary school, ceilings would leak and chunks would fall to the floor during heavy rain, Appleton said.

She was blown away by the new facility.

“I didn't expect this much,” she said.

Spacious, modern
The classrooms are spacious and include electronic whiteboard projectors and lights that dim automatically in relation to the natural light.

Appleton said she hopes the new buildings, without the old distractions, will mean better students.

“I am really hoping that we can just concentrate on learning,” she said.

The new school complex pays homage to the land it is built on, tribe leaders said.

Each classroom has windows offering natural lighting and views of the park.

A seven-sided “Gathering Place” will be used for cultural presentations for elementary school students. Smaller gathering places throughout the school are designed to enhance learning.

The facility has received the silver Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, also known as LEED certification, for its green design. Padgett & Freeman Architects from Asheville worked on the project in collaboration with school and tribal officials.

The Eastern Band built the school with money made from Harrah's Cherokee Casino. The 14,000-member tribe uses half of casino profits for government operations, with the other half going to members.

Government leaders have said housing, health care and education have been top priorities since the casino opened 11 years ago.

Joyce Dugan, interim director of education, said the tribe has shown a commitment to education through building the new campus.

Teachers excited
She's hoping the buzz among teachers will make for a good inaugural year.

“They are excited and that will get through to the kids,” she said.

Principal Chief Michell Hicks said incorporating culture, nature and the environment in the building will add to the education of the students.

He thanked the school board, administrative staff and Tribal Council for their work in building the new school complex.

He also thanked former U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor for his help. Taylor pushed the park service to agree to the land swap. Taylor could not be at the ceremony on Friday. His son attended in his place.

Hicks said getting the Ravensford land was a long battle, but one that his people were used to fighting.

“Just look what we have accomplished,” he said. “We are survivors. We find ways to do things.”

To view more photos, click here.

To view drawing of the planned schools, click here.

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