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Native monument/museum would mourn the past, celebrate the present

CHICAGO – A Chicago architect is spearheading a $90 million museum and monument project designed to acknowledge the strength of modern American Indian cultures and to memorialize the millions of Native people killed and the tribes that vanished after European contact.

Paul Poloz, principal of Poloz Architects, hopes the 55,400-square-foot Museum of Native American Culture and Spirituality can be completed by 2013 in Chicago, or possibly another city. The monument aspect will include a 15 to 20-foot statue to be erected in the courtyard. Exactly what the statue will be hasn’t been determined yet, but Poloz is talking to tribes and sculptors about that.

“The monument aspect of the project is very important to the experience of the place,” Poloz said. “This monument is to act as an acknowledgment of a tragedy as well as a vehicle to express to the modern global culture the wisdom of living in harmony with nature, community and oneself by treating all with respect and reverence – a knowledge that has been present in Native American culture since its beginning but forgotten by many today.”

The project would employ 300 to 400 people during construction, and perhaps 40 to 50 once the museum is open.

Poloz’ vision is that the project will “go beyond the exhibition of objects to unveil the spiritual context they were created in within Native American life.” He has developed the design with Lauren Polhamus, partner and project architect.

A native of Belarus, Poloz heads a firm of six people that has specialized in housing, office buildings, churches and urban planning strategies, but is now expanding into museums and projects for sustainable and ecological living.

The design includes interior portions housing artifacts, artwork, and indoor and outdoor sculptural gardens. The exterior will include about 120,000 square feet of landscaped space and a courtyard where cultural activities such as pow wows will take place.

The interior will be “designed with structures referencing traditional Native American architecture from tribes around North America to create an intertribal village community,” according to Poloz.

The design “is based on the concept of the cosmic circle, a strong symbol of life, with endless forces spinning around the center. The central part of the circle is the Great Tipi surrounded by swirling streams of water.”

Poloz plans to present the project to Chicago mayor Richard Daley and thinks Chicago would be an appropriate place for it. “The project has been designed for a city site, contributing to the urban environment as an oasis of nature to provide people with an escape from the sterility and hectic pace of the city.”

He is currently also involved in setting up a nonprofit foundation for the project, which will include tribal involvement and help raise the money needed. Poloz said it will apply to the federal government for grants and also the private sector. He hopes to have the foundation up and running in the next couple months.

Poloz came up with the concept for the monument/museum in 2006 on a trip to California. He saw the work of Native artists there and was “really amazed. I started to understand the spirit of Native American art and culture.”

His environmental concerns (the project is a “green” design) also led him to thinking about Native people, how they live a sustainable life and “how much they care about nature. They never waste anything. It’s amazing. We have to learn from these people.

“Green design will be tied into nearly all aspects of the museum. It is planned to be an embodiment of the resourcefulness of traditional Native American life wherein the resources readily available on the site, such as solar and wind power, will be harvested to minimize the use of wasteful and polluting energy sources.”

Water will be recycled from the museum to fill the aquatic elements of the landscaping, and Poloz hopes native animals will come on to the site.

While Poloz says “it is difficult to estimate a time of completion with the current economic crisis, we are doing what we can to give exposure to the project.”

He’s already had one augury of success. “Two weeks ago in a conversation with Joseph Standing Bear Schranz, president and founder of the Midwest SOARRING Foundation, I was told that the arrival of an eagle that came to build a nest in my backyard was not a simple coincidence but represents a special and very important sign.”