"Just weeks after his retirement from the post he held for 17 years, a Washington Post investigation into the expenditures of former NMAI director W. Richard West Jr. left many shocked and dismayed. Many, that is, outside of the museum and the rest of Indian country. Years of minor rumblings about West's extravagant style erupted when vivid details of ''lavish parties and travel'' emerged. Recovering well since the controversial appointment of Kevin Gover as West's successor, the museum may now be conducting a bit of reputation rebuilding as well.
The lengthy report, part of an ongoing series by the Post scrutinizing the greater Smithsonian Institution, painted with fine detail a portrait of West as an in-demand globetrotter, traveling, eating and slumbering first-class on the federal dime. The expose was not a complete surprise. West's close staffers, fearing embarrassment for both director and museum in the wake of recent Smithsonian fiscal scandals, recommended changes - not to itineraries or accommodations or sensibilities, but to the pot of money the director should use. Expensive fetes, bicoastal cocktail receptions and a gala dinner in honor of the departing West were billed to the Smithsonian's ''trust fund.'' The fund consists of privately raised money, including donations from Indian people, tribes and tribal organizations. If that does not make you uncomfortable, it might be time to get out of Washington.
What threatens the museum is the projection of power of one individual and not the values and hopes of the collective. To continue with a pattern of excess despite ground-level whispering and increasing scrutiny of the Smithsonian culture points to a lack of humility at odds with the museum's mission. Even West's poor attempt at mitigating criticism (ceasing his use of chauffeured cars because of its perceived negative appearance) is an insult to the marginalized people the museum represents and threatens to damage its image in the indigenous world."
Get the Story:
Editorial: Too close to the sun
(Indian Country Today 12/4)
Portrait Cost Indian Museum $48,500
(The Washington Post 12/4)
National Museum of the American Indian - http://www.nmai.si.edu
Ex-NMAI director West spent over $250K on travel