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Cherokee Nation donates $4 million to build high school gym


TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) _ The Cherokee Nation wants to dispel perceptions that Oklahoma school children don't benefit from its gaming operations.

Officials announced Wednesday that the tribe will spend $4 million in casino profits to build a 2,000-seat gymnasium at Sequoyah High School.

``We felt building a new gym at Sequoyah High School would be the proper use of gaming profits,'' said David Stewart, chief executive officer for Cherokee Nation Enterprises Inc.

The contribution has been in the works for almost three years, he added.

During fiscal year 2002, Cherokee Nation Enterprises made $25 million in net profits, with most of that coming from gambling. The Cherokee Nation owns gaming centers in Catoosa, Fort Gibson, Roland and West Siloam Springs. They employ 1,000 people, Stewart said.

Tribe spokesman Mike Miller believes the $4 million earmarked for the school should answer questions raised about where gaming profits go.

``Sequoyah High School students are Oklahoma students, and our goal is to educate Oklahoma students,'' Miller said. ``Sequoyah High School does not receive state funding.''

The tribe founded the school in 1872 for Cherokee orphans of the Civil War. The boarding school has more than 350 American Indian students from 42 federally recognized tribes in 14 states.

The school, which also functions as a day school, is run by the tribe but funded by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. It is one of eight off-reservation boarding schools administered by the U.S. Office of Indian Education, which supervises 187 schools nationwide.

Superintendent Tony Pivec said the existing gym was built in 1966 and holds 600. School officials occasionally have rented Northeastern State University's gymnasium to handle larger crowds.

``Sequoyah sports teams have a huge following in northeast Oklahoma,'' Pivec said.

Pivec will visit other gymnasiums across the state with a similar budget.

``My expectation is our sophomore class will be playing in the gym as seniors,'' Pivec said.

The Cherokee Nation has more than 230,000 members and is America's second-largest Indian tribe.
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