WASHINGTON - The full documentary record on the National Museum of the
American Indian leaves no doubt that the capstone presence on the National
Mall was a hemispheric achievement. Native people from every corner of the
Americas led the way, with allies of every race providing critical
assistance at key points in an effort that will have been almost 30 years
in the making when the museum doors officially open on Sept. 21 at 1 p.m.
But if it's a question of the legislative record, perhaps one name can be
singled out among many: Daniel K. Inouye, the Democratic senator from
Hawaii. In March 1987, at a dinner given in his honor by the National
Congress of American Indians (in January, at the start of the legislative
year, he had volunteered to chair the Senate Select Committee on Indian
Affairs), Inouye announced a plan to place Indian remains from the
Smithsonian Institution beneath a monument to Native Americans on the
National Mall in Washington. Roland W. Force, then director of the old
Museum of the American Indian in New York, related in his "Politics of the
Museum of the American Indian: the Heye & the Mighty", that he immediately
contacted Inouye. The Museum of the American Indian and its matchless
George Gustav Heye collection had been seeking a new home for more than a
decade at that point. They would not have to look any further.
With the penchant for action that would soon gain office space for the
homeless SSCIA, Inouye's response, in the context of Washington anyway,
qualifies as instantaneous. In April he took Smithsonian Secretary Robert
McCormack Adams to New York for talks with museum officials. Force's
previous approaches to Adams had gone nowhere, due in part to the
secretary's concerns over funding and the museum's legal situation, as yet
unclarified by the New York State Supreme Court. But this time, action
swiftly followed. In May, both the Museum of the American Indian trustees
and the Smithsonian Institution regents agreed to pursue the project.
And on Sept. 25, 1987, Inouye introduced a landmark Senate bill, S. 1722,
to place a National Museum of the American Indian within the Smithsonian's
Over the next two years, any number of dire concerns had to be overcome.
Probably the most significant of these were the concern of Native peoples
over the inventory, identification and repatriation of Native remains and
funerary objects from the Smithsonian collection, and the Institution's
assumption of legal title to the Heye Collection.
But on May 11, 1989, Inouye introduced S. 978, a refined version of his
earlier bill, with backing from Sens. Ford, Kassebaum, Domenici, Packwood,
Baucus, Burdick, Daschle, McCain, Gorton, Rudman, Kennedy, Adams, Conrad,
D'Amato, Hatfield, Burns, Bradley, Riegle, Simon, Pressler, DeConcini,
Murkowski, Sanford, Dodd, Wirth, Matsunaga, Reid, Bingaman, Kerrey,
Stevens, Kohl, Metzenbaum, Moynihan and Dole.
With backing like that, the bill wasn't about to falter. Clearly, Inouye
and his allies had created a small revolution in the Senate.
In the House of Representatives, Coloradoan Ben Nighthorse Campbell, then a
Democrat, had become equally impassioned about the national museum. On June
15, 1989, he introduced companion legislation in the House. He too had
bipartisan backing from Reps. Udall, Whitten, Mineta, Young (Alaska), Clay,
Bosco, Rhodes, Kildee, Vento, Williams, Richardson, Lewis (Georgia),
DeFazio, Faleomavaega, Vucanovich, Rangel, Weiss, Bennett, Bevill, Brown
(California), Bustamante, Coleman (Texas), Dellums, Fascell, Frenzel,
Fuster, Gordon, Johnson (South Dakota), Lewis (California), Pashayan, Smith
(Florida), Synar and Towns.
The final legislation would establish the National Museum of the American
Indian on the National Mall, provide for the Cultural Resources Center (now
at Suitland, Md.) to house the Heye Collection, transfer the Heye
Collection from New York to the Smithsonian, settle on a process for
repatriation of Native remains in the Smithsonian and maintain an Indian
museum in New York at the Old U.S. Custom House (newly christened the
Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House).
On Nov. 13, 1989, the House amended S. 978 with the substance of H.R. 2668.
The Senate concurred in the amendment on Nov. 14, and on Nov. 28 President
George H. W. Bush signed S. 978 into law as Public Law 101-185. "I am glad
for the opportunity to sign this historic measure and grateful to those
whose vision and determination have created this occasion," the president