Management of the Stewart Indian Museum underwent a sudden change when executive director Sheila Abbe was locked out.
Jason May, newly installed secretary of Carson City Urban Indians Consortium Inc., said Abbe was fired from her position as executive director of the Stewart Indian Museum on Dec. 20.
Abbey calls the move a "hostile takeover."
"It's an illegal hostile takeover by a group of people looking for an easy way to take over something it has taken us three years to build,"Abbe said. "This is just not right. This is going to set our progress back 15 years."
According to May, the Consortium consists of board members Esther Thompson, Norman Fillmore, Rocky Boice Sr., Michael Williams and herself. By vote they replaced Abbey with a new executive director, Esther Thompson. Jason May was installed as secretary and Rocky Boice as treasurer.
"The museum is under new management and we can't provide much information at this time," May said, asserting the organization is under a massive audit and is conducting an inventory to deal with irregularities.
"We can't be deterred from that. This kind of thing happens in businesses and state offices all the time with errant employees and it doesn't make the news Any time Indians assert themselves it becomes a hostile takeover."
Abbe said the first indication of a problem came from the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. The bureau followed up on a complaint and the museum's books were audited but, according to Abbe, no irregularities were found.
"They warned us that these people were up to something," Abbe said.
The museum's board consequently filed a list of new officers with the Secretary of State's office and took possession of the museum Dec. 20, as well as all files and paperwork. Abbe and her husband, Jeff, are not allowed on the property.
Steve Anderson of the Secretary of State's office said a list of officers for any incorporated business must be on file in that office, which does not handle challenges.
"The secretary of state does not regulate these corporations," Anderson said, noting this could be a matter for the courts.
The Abbes have been in charge of the museum since 1997 and received a license agreement from the state of Nevada Building and Grounds after the dissolution of the previous board, an organization called the Stewart Cultural Center.
Mary Thompson, who teaches beadwork at the museum, said the facility was in bad shape under the previous administration but after the Abbes assumed leadership it flourished.
"If the Abbes aren't here come spring, I won't continue here," Thompson said.
Under Abbe, the little museum was cleaned up and new classes were initiated to preserve Indian culture. The Abbes initiated a program with the prison system to educate inmates so they would have an occupation when they were released from prison and obtained a grant from the Save America's Treasures Foundation to restore the old building adjacent to the museum.
The building was to house more museum exhibits as well as critically needed class space but all is now in question. Abbe said programs will be stopped and money from the 13 grants she acquired will be returned. All work on the building will come to a halt.
Originally a production, planning and control manager in the Bay area, Abbe and her contractor husband Jeff left their two-story houseboat outside of Oakland, Calif., following a personal tragedy.
She started volunteering at the museum after their move to Carson City and she said the job eventually turned into a real commitment for both of them. Born in Lansing, Mich., she is part Chippewa.
Stewart Indian School was built and owned by the federal government to educate tribal members from all over the country. When it closed, the facility was deeded to the State of Nevada with the condition that some of the buildings be set aside for a museum to preserve, protect and develop a Native American cultural center. Memorabilia reflecting the historical school experience is displayed there and it is a showplace for the arts of the Great Basin Native tribes as well as others. Abbe said the school originally housed members of more than 200 tribes nationwide.
The facility, previously open seven days a week, offered classes in basket weaving, beading and bow and arrow making but will now be closed until Jan. 2.