Ghost Museum

The Muwekma Ohlone aren't alone in their frustration over Native American use of the Presidio. American Indian activists complain that bureaucratic dithering may force an Indian museum originally planned for the Presidio to be built elsewhere.

"Tomorrow morning we're going to see about a possible meeting site in Sebastopol," says January Chaix, legal counsel to the California Indian Museum, which is sponsored by the National Indian Justice Center. "If the city of Sebastopol is saying they'll treat us better than the Presidio, we're going to see what they have to say."

Two years ago the State Department of Education earmarked $2 million for an Indian museum to be built in a renovated building that had been part of the Presidio Army base. But the National Park Service never granted permission for the museum to begin the renovation. And the executive director of the Presidio Trust, the park's new governing body, says it will be some time before he begins offering buildings up for lease within the museum's price range.

Chaix says the two years of delay have made it difficult to maintain the project's funding.

"The state of California is bugging us to find out how the retrofitting is going," Chaix says. "We're starting to lose our credibility. People say, 'You don't even have a museum site.' We're starting to look flaky, and our excuse that the Presidio still hasn't granted us a lease is starting to wear thin."

Chaix says she has proposed state legislation to allow the state money to be used for a museum at an alternate site. "Our lobbyist says it will probably pass," she says.

Jim Meadows, the trust's executive director, says the congressional mandate that the Presidio Trust raise the money needed to run the former base as a national park doesn't allow him to give priority to relatively low-revenue projects such as the Indian museum.

"I get 20 requests a day for space on the Presidio, and we cannot support all those requests in those first six months of operation," says Meadows. "Although it doesn't meet [Chaix's] timetable, I have to look at the long-term responsibilities of the trust."

-- Matt Smith

 
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