Save Export Email Print Cite Permalink Where have the donors gone? Short donation list features gaming and natural resource revenue
WASHINGTON - The new National Museum of the American Indian represents a
milestone for all of America's indigenous peoples. Located on the National
Mall not far from the Capitol, the museum will be a lasting and permanent
educational showcase of Indian culture - art, music, dance and lifeways -
for all to marvel at and enjoy.
A part of the Smithsonian Institution, the museum marks a significant
departure from past practice in that Indian input and ideas have been
actively solicited and heeded in the design and construction of the new
building as well as in the preparation of exhibits. Several Indian tribal
governments and Alaska Native corporations have generously participated in
funding the NMAI.
A total of $219 million has been raised toward the construction and opening
of the museum. The 1989 legislation authorizing the museum called for
two-thirds of the construction costs to come from Congress, while the
remaining one-third would come from the private sector. Congressional
appropriation accounts for $119 million, while private donors have chipped
in a total of $100 million, considerably more than one-third of the total.
More than 250,000 Americans - including individuals, foundations, tribal
governments and corporations - have donated funds to support NMAI; there
are currently over 55,000 charter members.
The three largest donations of $10 million each came from three tribal
governments that have enjoyed considerable success in the gaming arena. The
Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, the Mohegan Tribe of Indians, and the
Oneida Indian Nation of New York have all leveraged their respective gaming
operations into full-fledged resort centers while also diversifying their
business interests into a variety of non-gaming industries.
The other donations Indian and Alaskan nations made were termed as
"significant financial contributions" which a museum spokesman later
described as being "between $10,000 and $1,000,000."
An examination of the donor list reveals that gaming and other business and
natural resource interests operated by Indian tribes and Alaska Native
corporations are largely behind institutional indigenous largesse. This
should come as no surprise.
But, only 25 such groups made donations to NMAI. Given the fact that there
are more than 500 recognized tribal governments and over 200 Alaska Native
corporations, this small number is somewhat of a surprise.
To be sure, a large majority of tribal governments throughout Indian
country and Alaska do not enjoy much in the way of gaming, business or
natural resource wealth. Other more mundane governmental priorities -
housing, health care, education, etc. - certainly rate much higher
importance than does giving away funds needed for programs and services at
Perhaps some in Indian country and Alaska remain skeptical of the new
museum, given the disgraceful ways in which Native artifacts and especially
human remains have often been treated in the past, allegedly in the name of
"science." Such wariness, combined with the still shaky financial straits
that most tribes and Native corporations find themselves in, make it likely
that many Native institutions decided to forego their typical and
characteristic generosity in this case.
Although the larger financial donations obviously receive the most
attention, the important thing is not the size of the donation; it is
participation - the willingness to make any contribution, no matter how
small is not insignificant - that matters most.
This new museum promises to be different than previous efforts to "put
Indians on display." With an Indian majority on its board of trustees and a
number of highly qualified Native professionals on its staff, NMAI will
certainly be a proud and respectful showcase of the culture and
accomplishments of this country's indigenous peoples. Its location, among
the famed Smithsonian museums and steps away from the Capitol and White
House, affords Native peoples a new and prominent platform from which to
make themselves heard in a positive way.
Perhaps as time passes and NMAI proves itself a respectful repository of
things Native (which it no doubt will) a larger number of Native
governments and corporations will offer support to this new institution of
education and exhibition.