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updated 9/9/2004 7:14:02 PM ET 2004-09-09T23:14:02

The Smithsonian’s newest museum will help heal the “long and often troubled past relationship” between American Indians and nonnative people, its director said Thursday.

W. Richard West Jr. said the National Museum of the American Indian, which opens to the public Sept. 21, will deal frankly with what he called the “Indian Holocaust” at the hands of European settlers.

But it also will be a powerful representation of the continuing Indian culture that thrives through the Western Hemisphere, West said in a speech at the National Press Club.

“The original citizens of the Americas have not dwelt always on the sunny hillsides of history, but instead often have lived in the shadow lands of its valleys,” said West, a Southern Cheyenne from Oklahoma.

The museum, he said, will bring “bright illumination to those shadow lands” and provide information and awareness that could lead to a better understanding between people.

The five-story, 250,000-square foot building will house three inaugural exhibitions and 8,000 artifacts representing Indian people from across the county, Canada and South America.

West said the collection will reflect the Indian culture in the thousands of years before European contact as well as the latest changes in Indian country, including casino gaming.

Realizing that many people in Indian country may never get to the museum on the western end of the National Mall, West said the goal is to bring the collection to them electronically.

All 800,000 objects in the collection — much of which is housed in facilities in Maryland or the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City — will be scanned into a database for use by schools, community centers and museums.

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