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Paying for Public Service

by Stephanie Hiller

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Typical of the disappointments was the gamesmanship played with the non-profit California Indian Museum (CIM) -- the kind of cultural resource well-suited to the park's mission as articulated in the General Management Plan.

In 1991, the original Presidio Council invited the National Indian Justice Center to create a museum honoring Native heritage, and in 1996 the project was approved by the National Park Service. Following Parks' Service direction, the museum prepared to move into Building 102, a 44,000 square foot brick barracks much in need of repairs; but then the Parks Service decided to use that building for its Visitor's Center, and Building 103 was suggested. CIM hired architects to prepare plans to retrofit 103, at a cost of $40,000 "but when we submitted them to the Park Service, we were told that they could not enter into any long-term lease agreements because the Presidio Trust was going to take over all commercial leases in July 1997," according to then-executive director January Chaix. CIM was understandably frustrated; it was sitting on $2 million in grant money awarded them by the State of California -- which it could not get permission to spend.

"CIM has been caught in the squeeze during this transition time," said Cecile Muldoon, Management Assistant for Parks' Service general manager B.G. Griffin. "But I really do think the Trust is sincere in its goal of keeping them there."

Keeping them where is the question. Correspondence between Chaix and various officers representing the Trust -- specifically Board Chair Toby Rosenblatt and executive director James Meadows -- details a series of interchanges with CIM pressuring and trying to placate the Trust while the Trust hedges and haws. Building 103, it seems, is no longer available. Well how about 1047? It's not as good but yes, we'll take it. But what about this new demand that we establish an ability to pay $50,000 per month in rent?

In his three page response, Rosenblatt ignores that question, emphasizing ever so patiently (one assumes) that "Neither the National Park Service nor the Presidio Trust is currently in a position to make long term commitments of the nature which might support large capital expenditures for building renovations." Then what about Alexa Internet, which has been settled in Building 116? Such arrangements are "short term permits which involved only minimal capital improvements," Rosenblatt replies, and besides, these arrangments "allow for the continuation of revenue... to help offset the operating expenses of the Presidio during this transition period."

But what about CIM's significant cultural contribution? asks Chaix. Has that no value? According to the Park's General Management Plan, organizations selected to be located in the Presidio will help to preserve the Presidio's natural, cultural, scenic and recreational values while providing educational opportunities to increase visitors' environmental and cultural awareness. The work of the Indian Museum, with its program of lectures and plant walks and its collection of Indian artifacts, certainly fits those parameters. Oh, yes, writes executive director James Meadows, we do want you to be there. . .

Nearly four years after they moved into the Presidio, the CIM is still without a permanent home
Occupants of the Presidio long before it was established as an Army base in 1776, the Muwekma Ohlone Indians, who had been forcibly removed from the area, were made slaves in the construction of the base. Native Californians who resisted the Spanish invasion were imprisoned there.

Is the annhilation of Native peoples more than the Trust is willing to acknowledge publicly? Nearly four years after they moved into the Presidio, the CIM is still without a permanent home. Asked for an update on the situation, Joe Myers, President of the museum's Board of Directors, said only this: "Nothing has changed." Reluctant to jeopardize delicate negotiations, he was unwilling to say more until the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the Muwekma Ohlone Indians are outraged that shellmounds identified in Crissy Field as far back as 1840 have been ignored.

On November 9, San Franciscans celebrated the opening of a dyke to allow saltwater to restore the marsh which was part of the original ecology there. Representatives of the Rumsien Ohlone and the Costanoan-Rumsen Ohlone tribes danced and offered prayers to the waters but not the Muwekma, who claim original residence in the area. According to Melissa Nelson of the Cultural Conservancy which works to protect the Native legacy, the "feel that they are not getting enough decision-making power and respect for their heritage." One of the three documented burial mounds, discovered in l972, was simply removed.

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Albion Monitor December 28, 1999 (

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