Dec 11, 2023 - News

Utah company accused of corporate "colonization" in bid to buy historically Indigenous college

A large 19th century brick building with a bell tower and trees in front.

A hall at Bacone College circa 1910. Photo: Public domain

A Utah company says it plans to try to acquire a historically Indigenous Oklahoma college it successfully sued to collect a debt.

  • The president of Bacone College in Muskogee characterized the company's move as "colonization," according to a report last week by KWGS, a public radio station in Tulsa.

Driving the news: Midgley-Huber Energy Concepts, a West Valley City-based HVAC contractor, sued Bacone for more than $1 million in 2021 for work performed during the previous two years.

  • The college's administrators say they can't pay the bill, so the sheriff is putting the land and buildings up for auction this week — and MHEC's owner told KWGS he wants to submit a bid.

Why it matters: Bacone serves a predominantly Indigenous and low-income student body, and its board of trustees all cite tribal affiliations.

  • Bacone is the oldest college in Oklahoma, founded in 1880 by Baptist missionaries on land donated by The Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

Details: Bacone officials told KWGS the Utah company previously made a $3 million offer to purchase the property and lease it back to the school for two years, allowing Bacone to pay off the debt and potentially buy the campus back in the future.

  • Emails shared with KWGS show Bacone made a $4.5 million counteroffer for the campus and outlined a plan to pay the debt over about three years.
  • Bacone said it needed more money for the property to pay other debts. Administrators noted the HVAC contract was signed by a now-ousted former president.

What happened: MHEC declined the counteroffer and the payment plan.

  • Owner Chris Oberle described the counteroffer as a stalling tactic and said the college should have offered the payment plan two years ago when the company sued.
  • MHEC did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

What's next: Oberle says he plans to bid the $3 million at auction this week.

  • If he wins, he says he'll let the college operate through the spring; after that, he'll need to see a business plan from the school.

What they're saying: "These young Native people are now experiencing another time when a corporate entity can come in and take the very land … which was theirs," Bacone's interim president Nicky Michael told KWGS. "This is colonization. This is no different than it was 200 years ago when they were taking our land."

Between the lines: Bacone is a private college but has been trying to transition to a public college connected with a consortium of tribes.


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