STATE INDIAN MUSEUM
Serving California for over 75 years!
Since December 15, 1940, when the museum building was officially dedicated as part of the California State Parks system, the State Indian Museum has become an urban go-to place for California Indians. Despite its proximity to Sutter’s Fort and a California-mission-look-alike church across the street, it occupies a position of value in the minds and hearts of many.
The State Indian Museum has survived old-school curatorial concepts & practices, lack of funding for implementation of contemporary exhibits about Native life, and a montage of employees with varying degrees of history & cultural understanding and/or expertise.
Yet somehow, its importance remains. It is not just about the now-historic adobe building and its cultural contents. The overarching reality is that it is about ’place’ –the spot in the region that has become a gathering & meeting area, and overall contact catalyst for California Indians. The ‘place’ –the land and space– that the museum occupies has intrinsic meaning and value to many of the descendants, the living communities, of California’s original peoples.
State Indian Museum today
A PLACE FOR CULTURAL COMMUNITY -The Value of Land & Space
The phenomenon of Indian Place-Making, creating Indian community/cultural belonging areas, in urban California developed out of the chronic loss of lands that Natives have suffered at the hands of legislative government over time. The inclusion of the State Indian Museum in providing local, urban Indian 'place' was, by no means, accidental. Early Federated Indians of California leaders recognized the State Indian Museum as a local venue that the public already associated with California Indians, albeit exclusively in a historical context (they had yet to recognize their contemporary existence). The foresight and determination of these early leaders shaped the future of community for California's disenfranchised urban Indian peoples, and helped make the State Indian Museum part of their world.
A comprehensive exploration of this topic appears in a paper entitled California Indian Land Claims Activism and Urban Indian Place-Making by Dr. Terri A. Castaneda of California State University, Sacramento.
Click here to read the full text and better understand how the State Indian Museum has come to play an integral role in Indian community.
"...for California Indians, the loss of ancestral territory was about much more than the loss of their traditional homelands and subsistence base.
It was also about the loss of place...both ceremonial and commonplace."
"Today, exhibits featuring California Indian contemporary artists, weavers, and writers draw Native and non-Native patrons alike, and the grounds of the museum, where the Federated Indians of California first announced its formation...have become one of many urban, California-Indian places..."
Dr. Terri A. Castaneda
This contemporary acrylic on canvas entitled Coyote Dancer by renowned Nisenan Maidu/Hawaiian/Portuguese artist Harry Fonseca was commissioned for the State Indian Museum in 1985. It currently graces the lobby of the museum.
An Abbreviated History of the State Indian Museum
1927 to 1939 – cultural items owned by Benjamin Welcome Hathaway, the first curator, were housed in the State Library & Courts Building and later the 4th floor of the State Capitol
1940 – the State Indian Museum was officially dedicated by the Native Daughters of the Golden West
1951 to 1956 – ‘themed’ exhibits were created, opting for the first time to ‘tell a story’ instead of presenting items and facts
1960s – regional tribal emphasis began to influence exhibits; enhanced curatorial care techniques were put into place
1970s – marked by increased association with local Native tribes
1972 – the museum store opened
1978 – the first Gathering of Honored Elders took place on the grounds (2019 marked the 42nd)
1984 to 1985 – the museum closed for major renovations; reopened with new exhibits, air conditioner and humidifier
2013 to 2014 – the gallery/meeting room was dedicated to the basket weavers of California and renamed the Basket Gallery; text panels reflecting important historical & contemporary issues were installed
2018 - Governor Jerry Brown allocated $100M in state funding for the construction of the California Heritage Center in West Sacramento, which will replace the existing State Indian Museum
2019- the City of West Sacramento officially transferred land located at the confluence of the Sacramento & American Rivers - the site of the future California Indian Heritage Center - to California State Parks
2020- to help manage the Coronavirus pandemic in California, Governor Gavin Newsom shifted $95M from CIHC project funding to lease revenue bonds. Once Parks finalizes plans for the project, they can explore the option of funding it through lease revenue bonds.