Archive for Wednesday, June 6, 2001

Wealthy tribe gives $10 million to museum

June 6, 2001

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— A Connecticut Indian tribe made rich by a casino gave $10 million toward the National Museum of the American Indian, a project that after 12 years still is $90 million and three years away from completion.

"For too long, Hollywood has depicted us in very much a negative light," said Mark Brown, chairman of the Mohegan tribe, in announcing the donation. "This gift is not just for the museum but for all Native Americans."

Congress authorized the museum in 1989 but construction has been delayed by fund-raising and design disputes. The museum, part of the Smithsonian Institution, now is scheduled to open in 2004 and will be a center for performances, educational programs and exhibits of Indian art, history and culture.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, incoming chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, and museum officials recently met with the Mohegan tribal council as part of their drive to raise the final $100 million for the $219 million project.

The donation by the Mohegan tribe is the largest since the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, also from Connecticut and also made wealthy by casino gambling, gave $10 million in 1994.

The Mohegans said their donation will be given in half-million-dollar installments over the next 20 years. The tribe operates the Mohegan Sun casino in eastern Connecticut, near the Pequots' Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Museum Director Richard West said the Mohegan tribe is showing the same generosity today "that it demonstrated so memorably almost 400 years ago when, as those who were already here, it was among the first to extend the hand of friendship, welcome and hospitality to those who came."

The museum was originally scheduled to open in 2002. The Smithsonian fired Douglas Cardinal as the project's architect in 1998 in a dispute over deadlines and money, and final plans were developed by a panel of Indian and non-Indian architects.

Officials are awaiting congressional approval of $30 million in federal money proposed for the museum in the 2002 budget year, which begins Oct. 1. Construction of the 260,000-square-foot facility would begin when the funds are appropriated.

Officials, with Inouye's help, are confident they can raise the $60 million that still would be needed to prevent more delays.

The museum will house a 300-seat theater and 120-seat outdoor performance space. Three exhibition galleries will display up to 2,000 objects from a collection of 800,000 pieces.

On the site will be natural habitats, including meadows, a hardwood forest and wetlands. The landscape will feature 20 types of trees, and up to 30 boulders, called grandfather rocks, will be brought in.

Preparation work already has been completed at the site, located between the National Air and Space Museum and the U.S. Capitol.

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