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W. Richard West Jr.(Doctor of Humane Letters)

Posted 04/19/07 • Roland Adams (603) 646-3661

Biographical background on 2007 Dartmouth honorary degree recipients

W. Richard West Jr.
W. Richard West Jr.

W. Richard West Jr., a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma and a Peace Chief of the Southern Cheyenne, is founding director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, where he is responsible for guiding the successful opening of the three facilities that comprise the National Museum of the American Indian. Established in 1989 through an Act of Congress, the National Museum of the American Indian is an institution of living cultures dedicated to the life, languages, literature, history and arts of the Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere. The museum includes the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall; the George Gustav Heye Center, a permanent exhibition and education facility in New York City; and the Cultural Resources Center, a research and collections facility in Suitland, Md.

As director of the National Museum of the American Indian, West oversaw the creation and completion of the Heye Center, and supervised the overall planning of the museum's Cultural Resources Center. West's philosophy and vision for the museum have also been critical in guiding the architectural and program planning of the Mall museum, which opened in 2004. As director, West has also proved to be a vigorous fundraiser; to date, the museum has raised more than $100 million in nonfederal funds. West continues to oversee the fundraising campaign of the museum, which also provides for an endowment and ongoing educational and outreach programs.

West, who grew up in Muskogee, Okla., was born in San Bernardino, Calif., in 1943, the son of American Indian master artist, the late Walter Richard West Sr., and Maribelle McCrea West. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Redlands in California and went on to receive a master's degree in American history from Harvard University in 1968. West graduated from the Stanford University School of Law in 1971. While there, he also received the Hilmer Oehlmann Jr. Prize for excellence in legal writing and served as an editor and note editor of the Stanford Law Review.

West has devoted his professional life and much of his personal life to working with American Indians on cultural, educational, legal, and governmental issues. As a practicing attorney, he served as general counsel and special counsel to numerous tribes and organizations and has represented clients before federal, state and tribal courts, various executive departments of the federal government and Congress. He has served as chair of the board for the American Association of Museums, as member-at-large of the association's board of directors, and as vice chair of the board of directors. West currently is vice-chair of the American Association of Museums/International Council of Museums, which represents the interests of American institutions in the international museum community.

West is married to the former Mary Beth Braden with whom he has two adult children, Amy and Ben.

Return to 2007 Commencement press release

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