State Indian Museum at Sutter’s Fort to close

Sitting in his office at the California State Indian Museum last week, Rob Wood spoke about the current California Indian Heritage Center project, which would eliminate the necessity of the longtime East Sacramento museum on the grounds of Sutter’s Fort.

Rob Wood, who serves as the heritage center’s project manager, has played an integral role in the efforts to bring the new center to West Sacramento by 2016. (Photo by Lance Armstrong)The new center is scheduled to open in the summer of 2016, following the completion of the 50,000-square-foot first phase of the project at its selected 43-acre West Sacramento site, across from Discovery Park and overlooking the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers.


Revisiting history

Although the museum has continuously operated between its adobe walls that were built in the likeness of the fort 70 years ago, Wood, who serves as the heritage center’s project manager, said that the museum’s size has always been a problem.

“From the date (the museum) was built, it was inadequate in terms of its size,” Wood said. “This (museum) is probably about 4,000 square feet and we’re projecting that at final build-out, (the new center) will be 125,000 square feet.”

Wood added that the vastness of the museum’s off-site collections, which he endearingly, yet unofficially refers to as “tribal treasures,” is so great that only about 5 percent of the entire museum archives are currently on display in the museum, which for the most part consists of displays created in the mid-1980s under the direction of the museum’s former curator, Mike Tucker.

Further emphasizing the magnitude of the inadequate size of the museum, Wood said, “We have about 3,500 baskets (in storage) alone.”

But looking forward, Wood shared details about the future heritage center, which he has so passionately devoted his time to helping it become a reality.

The now-70-year-old California State Indian Museum is shown in this 1950s photograph. (Photo courtesy of the California State Indian Museum)“(California) State Parks has been trying to make this (center) happen probably since about the 1970s and it is part of the relationship that State Parks has with the Native American community,” Wood said. “This project is extremely exciting. It gives us an opportunity to do what we haven’t been able to do in terms of telling the story of California Indians. Mostly what’s shown here (at the museum) are things from the North Coast and there are some dabblings from some other stuff from throughout the state. The idea of this (future) facility, too, is to take a greater statewide look of what we’re able to do there.”

Wood added that it is also an important element of the project to create a place where California Native Americans can “tell their own story in their own way.”

“It’s been a big deal throughout this project through consultations with native folks to have them involved in this project, so it speaks with what we call the ‘native voice,’” Wood said. “There was an interpretive document created in consultation with Indian advisors and academic advisors to accomplish that.”


The new museum

Although Wood recalled seeing concepts for a new State Indian Museum in Folsom as early as 1978, it was not until this century that much progress was made on this endeavor.

With the 2002 legislation through SB 2063, the center’s task force was established for the purpose of assisting in the development of the center and seed money was acquired for preliminary planning.

The future California Indian Heritage Center will be located on a 43-acre site, along the Sacramento River in West Sacramento. (Photo courtesy of the California State Indian Museum)From 2003 to 2007, the task force conducted a statewide site search with the Folsom Lake area being held as the backup plan for the project’s site.

During a large portion of this search, the Richards Boulevard area was considered, but the land acquisition, Wood said, “got too complicated and too expensive.”

In 2007, West Sacramento came forward with the now-selected site, which was offered as a donation.

A 20-acre parcel, which is owned by an Alaskan native corporation and located just north of the Broderick Boat Ramp, may also be incorporated into the overall project.

Additionally, the project consists of a secondary site in the Natomas area, just across from the Richards Boulevard area and near Camp Pollock, a Boy Scout camp located at 1501 Northgate Blvd.

Cathy Taylor, district superintendent of the Capital District for California State Parks, said that the (Natomas area) site was once considered as a main site for the project.

“For quite a long time, we had negotiated with the city of Sacramento about locating the facility out in (the Natomas) area,” Taylor said. “The American River Parkway, however, has a lot of restrictions about what can be built (there). There are limitations in the parkway about how large a facility can be and so we looked at the Natomas area as really more of an outdoor, interpretive space that could be used for large events. We aren’t going to do a lot of huge overnight gatherings in the West Sacramento site, where the center is itself, but we can certainly do that at the Natomas site.”

Taylor added that the parkway plan is limited to about 30,000 square feet of interpretive space and as a gathering area, it could include such amenities as an amphitheater, a stage and an outdoor, shaded interpretive programming site.

“It would be more of an outdoor type of facility than a (large) interpretive center,” Taylor said.

The center, which is projected to be paid for through one-third state funds and two-thirds private funding, is in its general plan stage for about the next 18 months and once this stage is completed, work on the project’s preliminary plans and working drawings will begin.

Taylor said that when the working drawings are completed – which may be about a two-year process – actual construction on the project can proceed.

Although it is uncertain when the project will be completed in its entirety, Taylor said that the center will be a world-class facility that will be well worth the wait.

“The California Indian Heritage Center has been a long time coming,” Taylor said. “It’s important for California Indians, but it’s also important for this community to have a project of this importance with this subject matter in the capital city. It’s a huge attraction for the city.”


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