"During my 17 years as director of the National Museum of the American Indian, I welcomed and learned from criticism, whether gentle or harsh. But nothing prepared me for the recent gossip passing for investigative journalism at The Washington Post and editorials in Indian Country Today. Real Indian country deserves better than rumor-mongering and character assassination, and so do I.
Allegations, which are false, are that my travel was ''excessive'' and ''lavish,'' as I was ''eating and slumbering first-class on the federal dime.'' Provocative, undocumented adjectives make for good reading in tabloids, but should not be in the Post or ICT. Both should be ashamed of themselves.
The truth is that these papers brazenly editorialized their way to sensationalized mischaracterizations of my travel for NMAI. They fabricated or implied ''facts'' that never existed. They persisted in their fantasies, even when given ample opportunity to correct them.
Why I traveled is an essential backdrop deliberately ignored by the Post and ICT. First, Congress mandated NMAI to have a ''new'' collaboration with Indian country. During the early 1990s, the NMAI conducted scores of consultations with Native peoples throughout the Americas - requiring travel by others and myself. In fact, the very shape and structure of the museum came from these consultations and was not ''idiosyncratically'' mine, as the Post asserts.
Second, NMAI had few if any precedents, and we had to look hard and far - quite literally - for models. The most innovative institutions representing indigenous peoples were in New Zealand and Australia - the National Museum of New Zealand and the Maori, the National Museum of Australia, and the Museums of Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia concerning Aboriginal peoples. NMAI consulted with them, requiring travel.
Third, NMAI became a model for the global museum community. This demanded travel. My board chairmanship of the American Association of Museums and vice presidency of the International Council of Museums, based in Paris, were both direct outgrowths of NMAI's importance as a new museological model. ICOM, and its legal affairs and ethics committees which I serve on, do important work encouraging repatriation of (and stopping trafficking in) indigenous cultural property.
Finally, the ever important issue of fund-raising. NMAI would not be here without it. The NMAI raised privately more than $155 million - $51 million in the period covered by the Post article. The Oneida, Mashantucket Pequot, Mohegan, Northern Ute and Cow Creek nations and others would not have gifted the total of $35 million to a director sitting at his desk in D.C. and failing to raise monies by coming to Indian country."
Get the Story:
W. Richard West Jr.: Let the sun shine in
(Indian Country Today 1/11)
National Museum of the American Indian - http://www.nmai.si.edu
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