By Rob Capriccioso
The event, a first-of-its kind glitzy fundraiser for (and at) the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), had a bounty of uniquely American Indian moments. A member of the 1491s comedy group joked about pulling some of the sacred headdresses on display at the museum out of the cases to add to the authenticity; First Nations comedian Gerry Barrett said if he were president, he’d fill the White House lawn with grazing buffalo; and some of the tribal leaders, lobbyists and spouses were decked out not in black tie, sequins and diamonds, but bolos, feathers and turquoise.
Tickets for the January 21 gala fundraiser were $1,000 per person. Gold sponsors, the Chickasaw Nation and Morongo Band of Mission Indians, donated $100,000 each. Other sponsors donated a combined total of copy million, according to an NMAI program.
The money showed, and flowed. The emcee was Twilight movies star Chaske Spencer; there were several musical and comedy performances; four floors of the museum were dotted with cocktail tables, candles and fancy tablecloths. The Native Nations ball even apparently outspent the president’s two official balls on at least one major front: food and drink. Reports surfaced that at the two galas the president attended with First Lady Michelle Obama at the Washington Convention Center, Cheeze-Its and pretzels were served, while drink lines were 40 people long. At the NMAI, buffalo filets, pear-infused vodka and ginger-apple sparkling water were abundant.
The high cost of the fundraiser was a sensitive subject for some attendees, who said they knew it kept out friends who would have liked to have been there. The fact that the American Indian Society of Washington hosted a less pricey Native-focused ball and powwow in Arlington, Va. the night before put some peoples’ minds at ease.
Chris Stearns, a Navajo lawyer and former congressional staffer, said he expects Obama to be more specific about addressing Indian issues in his second term. “He did want to hit some of the larger societal issues, and I think he did a great job with his plea to America to use its strength to ‘be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice....’ I came away feeling that, as a Native American, my family and I are really more a part of America than ever before.”
Below: "Museum director Kevin Gover giving introductory remarks and remembering tribal leaders who walked on in past year." (Rob Capriccioso)