WASHINGTON – Budget slashing last week in the House cut $22 million from a proposed American Indian cultural center in Suitland, Md., and $987,000 from an Indian museum’s future home on the Mall.
Smithsonian officials say the cuts – if also approved by the Senate – could delay the museum project and put a collection of 1 million American Indian objects in jeopardy.
The cuts “would relegate the world’s greatest collection of native objects … to a deteriorating condition in a completely unsatisfactory facility” in New York, said Smithsonian Secretary I. Michael Heyman.
“These conditions have already caused significant damage to the collection, some of it irreparable,” he said at a Senate hearing Monday.
But supporters of the cuts said they were necessary.
“If we’re going to achieve a balanced budget in seven or eight years, it’s not going to be by spending more money,” said Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the interior and related agencies.
Ground breaking for the $50 million Cultural Resources Center in Suitland was slated for this fall. The center would be used for research and conservation and would store items not on display at the Washington or New York branches of the National Museum of the American Indian. The New York branch opened in October.
Included in the collection are wood and stone carvings from the Pacific Northwest, woven baskets from the Southwest, textiles, gold work and jades from Central America and painted hides and clothing from the Great Plains.
The Suitland center would also give American Indians more direct access to ceremonial objects.
“Some of these things were just taken and they’re extremely sacred,” said Billy Tayak, chief of the Piscataway Indian Nation, a tribe native to Maryland.
The museum’s permanent home on the Mall, slated to open in 2001, has an estimated cost of $110 million.
Congress approved the museum’s charter in 1989 with the mandate that one third of the funds for its main facility on the Mall come from private sources. To date, the museum has raised $32 million from private sources.
American Indian groups have been actively involved in the project, contributing $15 million so far, said museum director Richard West.
As a result, some are disappointed by the possible funding cuts and project delays.
“It’s an inappropriate action,” said Aubrey Williams, one of the museum’s charter members. “If Congress doesn’t understand how important this museum is to people of Native American ancestry, they’re missing a great deal.”
“There’s a museum devoted to everything but American Indians,” Tayac said. “I think the time has come to show that respect for the Indian people.”
Museum supporters and officials hope to regain some of the funding in the Senate.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, has said in the past that he opposes the cuts.
“He is concerned,” said McCain spokeswoman Deidre Blackwood. “We are trying to find offsets in Interior programs to avoid cuts in Indian programs.” According to a survey by Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Prince George’s, the $17 billion in budget cuts approved last week by the House would cost Maryland $330 million in the next two years. -30-