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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


October 4, 2003 - Issue 97


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Indian Historian to Realize Dream


by BRYAN O'CONNOR - Billings Gazette staff


George Horse CaptureGeorge Horse Capture is about a year away from realizing a lifelong dream and completing his life's work.

After a life of preserving Native American Indian culture, including more than 20 years as a curator at two museums, Horse Capture has one final project to see through - the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

"I've been working all my life toward this," Horse Capture said at the Western Heritage Center on Friday. "To me that is the cycle of life."

Horse Capture was in Billings for the museum's Montana American Indian Heritage Day, and was the keynote speaker at its annual dinner and celebration. He gave a seminar Friday on interpreting American Indian history.

The 65-year-old Gros Ventre was born on the Fort Belknap Reservation but grew up mostly in Butte. He said his journey didn't really begin until he was a young man in the 1960s, working in San Francisco. He had it all he said, a good job, a new car and a boat.

"But still, there was something empty and unfulfilled within me," Horse Capture said.

Horse Capture was drawn into the civil rights movement after a group of students and Native American Indians took over Alcatraz Island in 1969. He found people who were enthusiastic, shared his concerns and were accepting, he said.

Horse Capture quit his job and began attending the University of California at Berkley, studying anthropology. After teaching and earning a master's degree in Montana, he served as curator of the Plains Indian Museum of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody from 1980 to 1990.

After struggling with heart attacks and thinking he was going to die, Horse Capture landed a job at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. Even though he and his wife's car was stolen two weeks after they moved to the Bronx, they decided to stay.

The new National Museum of the American Indian under construction near the Capitol is the culmination of the last decade of Horse Capture's work, he said. The museum is scheduled to open Sept. 21, 2004.

"Rain or shine, we're opening," Horse Capture said.

As the senior counselor to the director of the museum, he has been working with tribes all over the country portray their history accurately from an Indian perspective, he said. The focus is on Indians' origins, their history and their contemporary lives, he said.

"We're a museum of living people," Horse Capture said. "Some of our history is in the past, but much of it is in the present and future. It is our duty to tell the story with and Indian voice."

Moving the collection from the Bronx to Washington, D.C., will be no small task. There are about 850,000 pieces that will be carefully transported to the new museum during the next few years, Horse Capture said. It could take as long as five years to get it all moved, he said.

But the opening next September is where Horse Capture will say farewell. He will return to the Fort Belknap reservation, a place where his family, alive and deceased, all live he said.

"When the doors open, I'm leaving to return home. Duty done," he says smiling.

Copyright © The Billings Gazette

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