WASHINGTON, D.C. - Smithsonian Institute staff are hurrying to put out small fires that erupted when the Institute fired the architect who was working on the design.
A major concern in Indian country is that construction of the $110 million National Museum of the American Indian may be delayed. While Institute spokesmen deny that there will be any type of delay, museum supporters are campaigning to get the architect reinstated by asking constituents to write or call congressmen and express their concern that construction of the museum could be delayed.
The Smithsonian Institution terminated its contract with GBQC Architects, the association working with Douglas J. Cardinal, Architect, P.C., on the design for the National Museum of the American Indian saying the architectural firm didn't meet specified deadlines.
A new architect has not been officially appointed according to Carol Graves Hicks, public affairs officer for the Smithsonian Institute. She said the conceptual phase of the design process is complete and the project is now in its final stage ? the completion of the technical construction and engineering drawings.
In an April 4 Washington Post article, staff writer Benjamin Forgey writes that the firing could cost Americans the aesthetic integrity of the museum that is dedicated toward showcasing and preserving the life, languages, literature, history and arts of the Native people of the Western Hemisphere.
Mr. Cardinal has refused to hand over many documents because he says his contract did not compensate him for the work he and his firm did to accommodate all the changes in the design requested by the Smithsonian and others. Mr. Forgey predicted lawsuits will be filed to wrest control of design plans and that construction of the museum will indefinitely be tied up in court. Mr. Cardinal has approached the court with his filings.
But these aren't the only unfortunate consequences cited by Mr. Forgey. The consequences are extremely bad, he says, and a remedy is possible but unforeseeable. What makes this architectural divorce particularly hard to swallow, Mr. Forgey said, is that Mr. Cardinal's design is a vision reached following extensive consultations with tribal leaders across the land.
Many of the concepts developed in these sessions are embodied in the building ? it opens to the east, and a natural landscape is relative to the finished project and the design concept contains significant ceremonial spaces.
One of the 25 board of trustees, esteemed author and educator Vine Deloria of the Standing Rock Nation said construction deadlines often are not met, and with a project of this size, that is predictable. The larger picture Americans need to see is that the museum will go a long way toward dispelling the myth of the vanishing Indian and allow the nation to see cultures who are advancing into the 21st century.
"I imagine both sides are going to snap at each other about lawsuits and I don't know if either side will have anything to gain," Mr. Deloria said.
The tribal input was mandated by law, he said, and tribal consultations were conducted at the beginning and in every step of the process so the museum concept will not lose the input of tribal nations at this stage in the process, Mr. Deloria said.
The falling out between the Institute and Mr. Cardinal was unfortunate and came about because Mr. Cardinal said he was not compensated for additional work the Smithsonian wanted, Mr. Deloria explained.
"There is additional work the Smithsonian wanted him to do over and above the contract because the Smithsonian kept changing their mind." Mr. Deloria said Mr. Cardinal promised the deadlines would continue to be met but did not meet the deadlines.
"He said everything would be right on schedule and asked us to advance him more money, which was advanced. Then Mr. Cardinal went far beyond the delivery time. What happened is the Smithsonian got far out in front of delivering and Douglas decided until he got even more money he wasn't going to turn over the drawings," Mr. Deloria said. "We've paid him quite a bit more than he's delivered according to the delivery dates."
The bigger picture for American Indians as well as indigenous nations of the Western hemisphere, is that the National Museum of the American Indian will bring Indians out from behind display cases and into the modern world, Mr. Deloria said and this unfortunate disagreement should not be allowed to set the project back.
"When you attempt to build something this big you're always going to be behind," he said. "The Tower of Babel was never on time as far as construction deadlines," he said with a chuckle.
"My hope, and from what I've seen thus far, is the major thrust is going to be interpreting modern Indians rather than going back to the old myth of the noble vanishing Indian that has now expired.
"There will be an emphasis on who Indians are today and hopefully we will shock a lot of people and get us out of the specimen state into the proactive state.
"We want to change a lot of museum ideas, or textbook ideas, and place a major emphasis on photography and video documentaries of modern activities of Indians today.
"Already we are telling our own version as opposed to what is a remnant of the 1800s, that our culture disappeared so it has to be saved in glass cases.
We're trying to bust that up," Mr. Deloria said.