Under Secretary for Museums and Culture
Kevin Gover is the Under Secretary for Museums and Culture at the Smithsonian. The Office of the Under Secretary for Museums and Culture oversees the Institution’s history and art museums, its cultural centers, and the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Exhibits and the National Collections Program. He had served as director of the National Museum of the American Indian from 2007 until January 2021.
Gover oversees the Institution’s museums, including the Anacostia Community Museum; Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art; Arts and Industries Building; Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum (New York City); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; National Air and Space Museum; National Museum of African American History and Culture; National Museum of African Art; National Museum of American History; National Museum of the American Indian and its George Gustav Heye Center (New York City); National Portrait Gallery; National Postal Museum; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery.
Gover, a citizen of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, served as the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and its George Gustav Heye Center in New York City for 14 years. He also oversaw the Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland. He led the museums to pursue equity and social justice for Native people through education, inspiration and empowerment, and the museums have worked to expand people’s ideas of what it means to be Native American.
Under his leadership as director of the National Museum of the American Indian, the Washington and New York museums have opened numerous critically acclaimed exhibitions, including “Americans” (2018), which uncovers the many ways American Indian images, names and stories have been part of the nation’s history, identity and pop culture since before the country began; “Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations” (2014), which examines the history and legacy of U.S.–American Indian diplomacy from the colonial period through the present; “Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian” (2010), a long-term exhibition of more than 700 works of Native art from throughout North, Central and South America that demonstrates the breadth of the museum’s renowned collection; and “The Great Inka Road: Engineering and Empire” (2015), which considers the construction and use of the Inka Road, an engineering feat and UNESCO World Heritage site, which continues to be used today.
Other exhibitions opened during his tenure include “Fritz Scholder: Indian/Not Indian” (2008), “Brian Junger: Strange Comfort” (2009), “A Song for the Horse Nation” (2011), “Kay Walkingstick: An American Artist” (2016), “Transformer: Native Art in Light and Sound” (2017), “T.C. Canon: At the Edge of America” (2019) and “Stretching the Canvas: Eight Decades of Native Painting” (2019).
In November 2020, the Washington museum opened the National Native American Veterans Memorial. The memorial, which sits on its grounds, was commissioned by Congress to give “all Americans the opportunity to learn of the proud and courageous tradition of service of Native Americans in the Armed Forces of the United States.” This is the first national landmark in Washington to focus on the contributions of American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians who have served in the military.
Gover also oversaw the launch of Native Knowledge 360°, the museum’s national educational initiative. NK360° is a set of teaching resources that provides educators and students with new perspectives on Native American history and cultures. It offers educational materials and training for teachers that incorporate Native narratives, more comprehensive histories and accurate information to enlighten and inform teaching and learning about Native America. It challenges common assumptions about Native peoples—their cultures, their roles in United States and world history, and their contributions to the arts, sciences and literature.
Gover served as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior from 1997 to 2000 under President Bill Clinton, where he won praise for his efforts to rebuild long-neglected Indian schools and expand tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs police forces throughout the country. His tenure as Assistant Secretary is known for his apology to Native Americans for the historical conduct of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
After leaving office in 2000, Gover practiced law at Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Washington. In 2003, he joined the faculty at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University and served on the faculty of its Indian Legal Program.
Gover received his bachelor’s degree in public and international affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University and his juris doctor degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law. He was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree from Princeton in 2001 and an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from Brown in 2016. Gover was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2020.
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