The federal government has decided to eliminate funding for the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning, Montana. Opened to the public in 1941, the museum not only houses a major collection of historic artifacts from America’s plains tribes, it hosts frequent exhibitions by contemporary American Indian artists. The Daily Inter Lake of Montana reports that the museum’s annual budget of $150,000 will be eliminated by October 2007, so that the funding may be diverted to “law enforcement.” The U.S. government in its infinite wisdom, also plans to severely cut the budgets for the American Indian museums in Anadarko, Oklahoma and in Rapid City, South Dakota.
While the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning has a premiere collection of historic arts by tribal peoples from the Crow, Sioux, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Nez Perce, Cree and Shoshone nations, it is located on the tribal lands of the Blackfeet. Since the museum is a major tourist attraction and a site for many annual festivals and exhibitions, the institution’s closing will represent a significant blow to the local economy. But it also represents a critical setback for established and emerging American Indian artists, who have come to rely upon the museum as a primary venue for exhibiting and selling their works. In addition, the closing of this institution demonstrates a callous disregard for American heritage. That the cuts have been enacted by an administration proclaiming itself to be above all others when it comes to “patriotism,” only makes the story that much more of an unacceptable outrage.
The Indian Arts and Crafts Board within the U.S. Department of the Interior is responsible for axing the museum’s funding. Adding insult to injury, the U.S. government has stated it “hopes” that the Blackfeet Tribe will find a way to keep museum doors open, but quite obviously the bureaucrats have nothing but contempt for indigenous peoples – not to mention the arts. That the U.S. government could so easily appropriate $251 BILLION dollars to wage war in Iraq – but can’t find $150,000 to keep an American museum open – only illustrates the depravity to which my homeland has sunk.