Ambassador Berry’s Welcome Remarks at a Dinner to Strengthen Relationships between Native Americans and Indigenous Australians

Welcome everyone to my home. It is an honor and a privilege to be your host.

We have with us members of the oldest continuous culture on earth. For 70,000 years, Australia’s Aboriginal peoples have been shaped by their landscape. Their cultural and linguistic diversity is astounding, and is mirrored in the indigenous peoples of the Americas and Hawaii. The rich heritage of these peoples helps to define what it means to be Australian or American.

Indigenous Australians have overcome harsh prejudices to make important contributions to Australian society. But, like Native Americans, they still face challenges. In both countries, too many indigenous people suffer poverty and deprivation. We need to work together to build a better future for these communities.

This is why we are here tonight. Museums are important to this effort. Museums should not be confused with archives. Not only do museums preserve our histories and tell our stories, they are institutions of living cultures. And, they can help us to learn from the mistakes of the past.

America’s Smithsonian Institution is an embodiment of American culture, identity, diversity, and ingenuity. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. and its affiliated George Gustav Heye Center in New York City are charged with changing what the world knows about the Native peoples of the Americas and Hawaii. These are first-rate institutions and are the first national museums to tell the Native story from a Native point of view.

The National Museum of Australia, the National Gallery of Australia, and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) are natural counterparts to the National Museum of the American Indian. AIATSIS, which I visited earlier this month, not only houses a priceless collection, but through its research and advocacy, seeks to affirm and raise awareness of the richness and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

We want to forge stronger links between the Smithsonian and its National Museum of the American Indian and Australian institutions. Indeed, an essential component of the U.S. Asia Pacific rebalance is supporting the cultural exchanges and people-to-people ties that underpin our bilateral relationship. Our museums can serve as bridges across the Pacific; bridges of shared knowledge. In that spirit, I hope our discussion this evening begins to build these bridges.

Australia and the United States are both Pacific nations, and we have much to learn from our Pacific forebears. The bonds that span the Pacific and unite indigenous peoples were on display when Aboriginal Australians welcomed the Hokule’a – a Hawaii-based Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe – to Sydney Harbor last year. The Hokule’a embodies the skills, ingenuity, and pride of this region’s native inhabitants. The Hokule’a is a harbinger of a brighter and more interconnected future.

It is a special pleasure to welcome our guest of honor, Mr. Kevin Gover, who has been a colleague and a friend for over a decade. Kevin is the director of the National Museum of the American Indian and a proud citizen of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.

Kevin is well known within the Native American community for his tireless work as a lawyer and public servant, but perhaps he is best known for an apology. In 2000, as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior, he issued a formal and unprecedented apology to the Native American people for the historical conduct of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This apology set the stage for a new era of cooperation between the U.S. government and Native American communities.

Kevin himself can tell you more and start us off on a discussion about how to broaden and deepen indigenous and museum partnerships. But before Kevin says a few words, I want to welcome you with a toast.

A toast to the beauty and vibrancy of Native cultures, to their unparalleled contributions to humanity, and to nourishing stronger relationships between our first peoples.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, Kevin Gover.