By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Past and present leaders of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian and the Cherokee Central Schools cheered on Friday, Oct. 4 as Principal Chief Michell Hicks burned the note signifying the payoff of the loan for the new school building.
“This is a day that we celebrate many things,” said Chief Hicks. “It’s a day to be proud. We have built great financial stability within this Tribe, and I stand proud.”
He thanked many people including the late Chief Leon Jones who he recalled giving an impassioned speech in Asheville that helped turn the tide of the debate over the land transfer with the National Park Service.
“It took a Tribe to make this happen. It’s not just about the finances. It’s about the strength of a Tribe.”
Kim Peone, EBCI Deputy Finance Officer, said the original payoff date was in October 2016. The Tribe saved $7.1 million in interest payments by paying the note in full in five years. The original amount of the loan was $110 million and a total of $88 million was refinanced in 2009.
Vice Chief Blythe commented, “It is a great day. It’s been a great project from start to finish. We had the right people at the right moment in time. We need to be thankful for the blessings we have been given.”
Gil Walden, of First Citizens Bank who handled the refinance in 2009, spoke highly of the relationship of First Citizens and the Tribe. “It means a lot to us. The relationship dates back around 30 years. It is very special to us. When the Tribe tells us this is what we’re going to do, that’s what they do.”
He said the payoff was “pretty amazing” and related that he doubts any other clients have paid that sort of debt in that amount of time. “We’re so tickled that we were a part of the school.”
Former Principal Chief Joyce Dugan served in various capacities throughout the time it took to garner the land and build the school. “We were naïve at first,” she said speaking of the original idea of the land swap. “We thought if we just went to Washington and asked for that land, it would be ours. Thirteen years later, the land was ours. There was tremendous work after that.”
Chief Dugan added, “It was a long, long process, but anything that is worthwhile takes time. I want to thank the School Board as they had to keep the school running as they fought the battle.”
School Board vice chairman Dick Crowe commented, “I just want to thank everybody that helped lay the groundwork on this project. I’m just proud to be a Brave.”
Miss Cherokee 2013 Madison Crowe, a 2011 graduate of Cherokee High School, said, “I would like to thank you for your continued support of my alma mater – Cherokee Central Schools. It’s outstanding. That school is absolutely impeccable.”
As a student, Crowe spoke at the groundbreaking for the project. “It gives me so much pride to be speaking as the loan is paid off.”