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Interior proposes ending financing of three museums

ANADARKO, Okla. - A recent proposal by the Department of the Interior would
end the funding of the three museums under its jurisdiction - the Southern
Plains Indian Museum in Anadarko, the Sioux Indian Museum in Rapid City,
S.D. and the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning, Mont. - by the end of
fiscal year 2007.

Under the proposal, the tribes of these areas would be expected to provide
funding for the maintenance and administration of the museums and their
collections through grants, foundations or other means of community
support.

Scott Cameron, the Interior deputy assistant secretary for Performance,
Accountability and Human Resources, began touring these regions with
various commissioners of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board this past summer,
presenting the IACB plan to end this funding in order to create a law
enforcement division to investigate violators of the Indian Arts and Crafts
Act of 1990.

The IACB's present budget consists of 55 percent for administration and 45
percent for the management and expenses of these three museums. Together,
the budget for these three museums totals approximately 500,000 annually.

Jana McKeag, chair of IACB and member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma,
said that decision was ultimately based on the belief that tribes can
manage museums better than the federal government.

"We looked at the number of people who went through the museums on a yearly
basis," she said. "We were concerned that these tribes weren't providing
the outreach and the benefits of the tribes to these museums ... We just
felt that somebody could do a better job than we are."

McKeag said that nothing had been implemented yet and that the tribes and
Interior were "exploring options." She compared the cessation of federal
funding with an extension of the Native American Graves Protection and
Repatriation Act.

"There's not one answer in getting this job done," she said. "This isn't
any different from repatriation or what's under NAGPRA - turning over to
the tribes in the area what belongs to the tribes and making sure that they
benefit from them."

Although Cameron and McKeag said they see this as an opportunity to create
community-centered museums that should have larger gallery space and more
traveling exhibits, there are a wide range of artists, legislators and
Native organizations that see the possibility of these museums failing
without the protection of federal dollars and the chance of these priceless
collections being lost, despite Cameron's reassurances of "trying to focus
on succeeding rather than worrying on what happens if we fail," as he told
ICT.

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One organization that made a motion to preserve the Sioux Indian Museum
collection and lobby the IACB for additional funding for the three museums
was the Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association. The GPTCA unanimously
approved the motion after its Aug. 16 meeting with Cameron.

Other tribes have also passed official resolutions to lobby to keep the
museums open past fiscal year '07, including the Caddo Nation, Delaware
Nation of Western Oklahoma, and the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes. The
National Congress of American Indians passed a resolution Nov. 4 at its
annual convention in Tulsa, Okla., stating these museums' importance in
their respective communities and that NCAI supports these museums'
continued funding.

In agreement with NCAI are congressmen from these particular states,
including Reps. Frank Lucas and Tom Cole, both R-Okla., and Sen. Tim
Johnson, D-S.D.

"I'm extremely frustrated and, frankly, angry that the Department of the
Interior is proposing to cannibalize funding to provide funding for the
Indian Arts and Crafts Board," said Johnson. "The responsibility to
preserve and interpret these artifacts is something they should not
neglect."

For Lucas, fighting for the Southern Plains Indian Museum, as well as the
other two museums, began almost as soon as he was elected into office in
1994. Stating that the Native people of southwest Oklahoma have greater
economic challenges than others in his district, he said, "It would be
extremely difficult to replace if we lost this venue to display to the
world their work. If anything, there should be more resources put there so
we can spread the message about what they're doing."

Cole, an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation and House of
Representatives deputy majority whip, agrees. Although he sees the need to
enforce the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, he sees no benefit in cutting the
funding of these three museums.

"These are little jewels, I think, in our system," said Cole. "They're not
very expensive in the great scheme of things. I think this is a case where
the Department of the Interior is being penny-wise and pound-foolish."

Among the organizations and elected officials working to keep the museums'
federal funding are artists and community leaders who work on the
grass-roots level. One of these voices is Bruce Caesar, a Pawnee
artist/activist who shares the concerns of many Native artists that
economic support will not be strong enough if federal funding is lost.

"Because of our economically strapped community and our economically
strapped tate and our deficit-oriented government, there will be no
additional funding for these museums if the federal government cuts them,"
Caesar said. "They'll cease to exist."