Indian tribes across the country are viewing the opening here
today of the largest-ever native- American museum as a symbol of
their own cultural rebirth.
Rising amid the hills of rural Connecticut, the $193 million
museum is an undulating arc of glass, steel, and stone that stands at
once as a monument to Indian pride and casino prosperity.
The five-story structure was born of the slot machines and
roulette wheels of nearby Foxwoods Resort and Casino - the wealthiest
gambling hall in the world, with more than $1 billion in annual
The newest - and by far the biggest - addition to the native-
American landscape honors the history of a tribe that at one point
looked in danger of disappearing. In the 1970s, only two elderly
women lived on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation. The tribe hopes
its high-tech, innovative museum - part Disney, part "Dances With
Wolves" - ensures that it will not be forgotten again.
"This institution will help educate people that we have been here,
that we have held on to our land." says Theresa Hayward Bell, the
Native Americans from Alaska to Florida are using newfound revenue
to rewrite their own pages of history. There are more than 150
Indian museums, and dozens more are on the drawing board. The
question has always been: Who will pay for them?
The past 10 years have seen an unprecedented infusion of cash into
the coffers of some Indian nations. Since the 1988 Indian Gaming
Regulatory Act, which essentially gave a federal stamp of approval to
Indian-owned casinos, nouveau riche tribes have been able to afford
to build monuments to their culture, showing the outside world they
are more than crass moneymakers.
"You're having more and more tribal nations wishing to have
museums and cultural centers, and the reason they're doing it is
museums serve such an important function in the community," says
Michael Hammond, executive director of the Warm Springs Museum in
Oregon. Many museums have language-instruction centers for members
and serve as meeting spaces. Some include exhibits of spiritually
significant items for Indian eyes only.
"Every tribe is doing its own museum," said Billy Cyprus, director
of the Ah-Tha-Thi-Ki Seminole Museum in Hollywood, Fla., which opened
last summer with about $3 million from the tribe's Bingo halls,
citrus groves, cattle and hotel concerns. "They're getting rid of
all the stereotypes - that the Indian is either a noble savage or an
In June, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation finished a $3.5
million renovation of its 22-year-old museum in Cherokee, N.C.,
complete with "holographic" images of Cherokee storytellers. Last
January, N. Scott Momaday, a Kiowa who won a Pulitzer Prize for
literature, started an organization called the Buffalo Trust to set
up cultural centers on sacred land across the US.
IN the rush to rewrite history, tribes have also prodded the
Smithsonian Institution to move the National Museum of the American
Indian from New York to a new $110 million home on the National Mall
in Washington. But when it opens in 2002 it will still pale in
comparison to the Mashantucket Pequots' museum, even after a $10
million donation from the Pequots themselves. …