"The long-awaited proclamation of a successor to W. Richard West as head of the National Museum of the American Indian is over. The Smithsonian on Sept. 11 announced its selection of former BIA Chief Kevin Gover, Pawnee from Oklahoma, to take over the reins. He will become the second director behind fellow Oklahoman Indian lawyer West, who has been at the helm for the past 17 years. The choice of Gover met with immediate controversy.
An immediate and outspoken critic was Eloise Cobell, lead plaintiff in Cobell v. Kempthorne and adversary of Gover since his tenure as head of the BIA in the late 1990s. In a Sept. 12 press release, Cobell expressed ''outrage'' at the hiring of Gover, who as assistant secretary of the Interior was held in contempt of court for repeated failure to produce court-ordered documents in the Indian trust fund class action lawsuit.
Were Cobell's admonition of Gover's hiring only that of a remote disgruntled former associate, it might have slipped past without much attention. However, such is not the case. Cobell is an active trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian who serves as chair of its vitally important Resources Committee. The Resources Committee oversees policy and practice of the museum's departments of human resources, finance and budget, and development. Her stated opposition and shock over the selection of Kevin Gover must be taken seriously as they necessarily raise serious questions about his qualifications, or lack thereof, for the job.
The first of two essential qualifications is the ability to raise funds in an Indian country environment now highly attuned to business and administrative ethics. Gover's placement may have derailed any, if not all, potential for tribal support. Stated Cobell, ''What this means is that the Smithsonian has hired someone to head this important museum who has literally thumbed his nose at Indian people - some of the poorest people in the nation.'' Question number one: Why would tribal leaders, who have worked so hard to fight for justice and lift their peoples out of poverty, donate to the NMAI when its director was found in contempt over the mishandling of Indian trust accounts for thousands of impoverished American Indians?
The second of two essential qualifications is experience in administering a large and complex museum. Gover has no experience in the museum field, much less experience guiding any museum approaching the scope and scale of the NMAI. It is here, were Indian country to swallow, hook, line and sinker the storyline that this is a good thing, where skepticism necessarily emerges. Question number two: Why is it better that Gover possess no museum qualifications whatsoever?"
Get the Story:
Editorial: Questions arise about NMAI choice
(Indian Country Today 9/14)
National Museum of the American Indian - http://www.nmai.si.edu
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Kempthorne - http://www.indiantrust.com
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