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American Indian Museum Opens in D.C.


UC Riverside Historian Celebrates National Museum of the American Indian

Clifford Trafzer co-edited “Native Universe,” a Book Published for the Sept. 21 Opening of the last Smithsonian Museum on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

(September 17, 2004)

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Cliff Trafzer, with the book he co-editedEnlarge

Cliff Trafzer, with the book he co-edited

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — A UC Riverside historian said years of effort are about to pay off with the opening of a Smithsonian museum that could help the nation heal from the wounds of colonization.

“Who would have imagined that the Smithsonian would create a museum on the American Indian, with the time, the space and the political power that takes?” mused Clifford Trafzer, co-editor of “Native Universe: Voices of Indian America,” a full-color coffee table book that will be published in conjunction with the Sept. 21 opening of the National Museum of the American Indian.

Located between the Air and Space Museum and the nation’s Capitol, this will be the last of the Smithsonian museums dotted along the National Mall in Washington D.C.

“This is recognition, finally, of the importance of Native American history,” Trafzer said. “I think it will be an institution of healing for the nation. We have this shared past, some of it positive, a lot of it negative -- the theft of millions of acres of land, the deaths of Indian people, particularly from disease, starvation, and exposure,” Trafzer said. “But we are all American. Native peoples survived and are still here, willing to share their arts, their culture, their religion. It will be an opportunity for native peoples to tell their story.”

“Native Universe,” which includes 300-color photos, is a book of essays by a distinguished group of Native American scholars, writers, activists, and tribal leaders. The Smithsonian and National Geographic published it jointly.
Trafzer, of Wyandot ancestry, worked with Gerald McMaster (Plains Cree and member of the Siksika Nation), who is deputy assistant director for the museum, which was approved in 1989 by Congress and cost $200 million to construct.
Trafzer has been one of thousands of people involved from the beginning in preparation for this national museum. In 1992, he organized a meeting at UC Riverside to gather opinions from local tribes about what should be included in the museum collections, one of hundreds of similar meetings held all over the Western Hemisphere. The meetings were videotaped and some of the discussions may even be played as part of the taped museum tour, Trafzer said.

“Usually with museums, curators decide about the collection. But in this case they brought in Pueblo people to speak about Pueblo pottery, they took things into South and Central America to be identified and discussed.” In some cases, Trafzer said, items were judged as too sacred to be displayed in a public place, and those were either returned to the tribe or stored in a way that was more suitable.

“This will be considered the best, and most definitive museum in the world,” Trafzer said. “They have Indian delegations coming from around the world, including many from here in Southern California.

All the years and effort will pay off, he predicted. “ The NMAI will touch the lives and minds of millions of people,” he said. “Visitors will learn about American Indian histories, cultures, and societies through the words and works of Indian people, their material culture, photographs, art, stories, and ceremonies. Perhaps, this museum will break down the boundaries between people and allow a greater understanding and exchange of ideas."

UC Riverside is near neighbor to more than 30 federally recognized tribes and California Indians helped found the campus and established its first academic chair. The campus offers one of only two Ph.D. programs in American Indian History in the nation, and was the first university in the nation to offer a Ph.D. program in dance history. Other institutional resources include the Rupert Costo Library of American Indian History, one of the largest collections of research materials relating to Native Americans in the nation, and the proposed Center for California Native Nations.

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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