Correction to This Article
This article incorrectly said that Steptoe & Johnson represented the Wisconsin Menominee tribe seeking a ruling from then-Interior Department official Kevin Gover. Steptoe had been seeking to represent the tribe about the same time but had not been hired. Gover said he learned that Steptoe was seeking the tribe's business after he began working at the firm.

Former Interior Official To Lead Indian Museum

By Jacqueline Trescott and James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Smithsonian Institution yesterday named Kevin Gover, a lawyer and former Interior Department official with no museum experience, to succeed W. Richard West as director of the National Museum of the American Indian.

Gover, an Oklahoma Pawnee and former assistant secretary for Indian affairs at the Interior Department, is a former law partner of West, the museum's founding director. His office at Interior oversaw the Bureau of Indian Affairs, historically one of the most contentious agencies in the federal government.

For the past four years, Gover has been a professor at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University in Tempe.

"I came to this decision rather slowly. I knew the museum was looking for a director and I was one of the people who wondered who could replace Rick. But I got more and more interested. A key factor is that it is a glorious building with wonderful exhibits and collections. The basic things you need for a good museum are already there," Gover said.

Sheila Burke, the outgoing Smithsonian deputy secretary and chief operating officer, was chairman of the search committee that recommended Gover. Smithsonian Acting Secretary Cristi?n Samper made the final decision.

Burke said Gover's lack of museum experience wasn't a factor because West, a lawyer, had provided "the world's best example of how that could work." Tim Johnson, the museum's associate director, was among the finalists, according to someone close to the process.

Burke said Gover was chosen over 10 candidates because "he has a strong presence, is committed to Indian country and the value and role of the museum in that community." West said Gover's lifelong work with Indian nations qualified him for the job. "He is a dedicated, competent public servant," West said. "He has good standing with the native community itself. He is a public figure who is well known and whose service to the native community is clear."

Suzan Shown Harjo, a writer and prominent voice for Indian rights, endorsed the selection. "I think he is perfect. He is very analytical about systems, management, how to run things. There is so much going on at the museum and he knows how to sort out priorities," she said.

During his tenure in Washington, Gover was at the center of the storm over tribal rights, tribal recognition, the role of the BIA and the billions of dollars held in trust by the government for the tribes.

In 1999, Gover, along with then-Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, was held in contempt by U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth, who said the officials hadn't turned over the records from the trust fund to lawyers representing Native Americans in a lawsuit. Lamberth was later removed from the case.

"It is still being resolved. The department is still producing the information it promised," Gover said. Harjo opposed the government in that dispute but says she was pleased that Gover was urging the government to settle the case. "I certainly encouraged the department to seek a settlement," Gover said.

He also apologized in a widely covered speech about the role of the BIA in Indian matters, saying the agency had a "legacy of racism and inhumanity." In the 2000 speech, he also said, "this agency participated in the ethnic cleansing that befell the western tribes."

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