Just as the nation slowly comes to grips with the importance of sharing the planet with a wide diversity of species, so it must recognize the value of cultural diversity, says the director of the National Museum of the American Indian.
W. Richard West Jr., a Stanford-educated lawyer, a Southern Cheyenne and a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, spoke Tuesday at Kansas University. He said the Smithsonian Institution's 3-year-old museum, which he has directed since 1990, will try to present the world of native peoples through native eyes.
West, the son of Dick West, a former art instructor at Haskell Indian Nations University whose work is still displayed on campus, spoke Monday evening at Haskell and Tuesday at KU's Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art.
The National Museum of the American Indian will reflect the resiliency of Native Americans, who survived on this continent for thousands of years before Europeans arrived and who survive today -- physically and culturally -- despite efforts in the last 500 years to annihilate them, said West.
``The native peoples of this hemisphere are still here,'' West said. ``We have adapted, indeed often brilliantly so, but our adaptations should not be confused with assimilation.''
Before joining the Smithsonian staff West, 50, was a lawyer in Washington and Albuquerque, N.M. He represented Indian tribes before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Since taking charge as the first director of the new Smithsonian museum, West has supervised the architectural and program planning for display sites in Washington and New York.
In an effort to distinguish the museum from those that have presented native cultures only from the perspective of Western culture, West has emphasized the importance of consulting with native communities for advice on the museum's exhibits. He has also instituted a policy to repatriate sacred and ceremonial objects in the museum's collection.