A member of the A’aninin (Gros Ventre) tribe and one of the first Native American curators in the country, George Paul Horse Capture Sr., “Nay Gyagya Nee” (Spotted Otter), walked on April 16 at his home in Great Falls, Montana surrounded by family.
His career as a curator started when he accepted the position at the Plains Indian Museum at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming in 1979. While there he organized exhibits like Wounded Knee: Lest We Forget and PowWow.
“George worked closely with Indian tribes throughout the Northern Plains ensuring that their voice was heard in a museum setting,” says his obituary. “He founded the first powwow grounds associated with a museum in the country.” The Joe Robbie Powwow Gardens are still used every year.
His next museum job came in 1994 when he accepted the position of deputy assistant director for cultural resources at the National Museum of the American Indian-Smithsonian Institution. He later became the senior counselor to the director there. During his 10 years at NMAI he helped prepare the facility to open on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 2004 and worked to repatriate a number of sacred objects to tribes. He retired the same year the museum opened in D.C.
“Basically, my main job—the one I enjoy the most—is being a curator for exhibits,” Horse Capture said during a 2002 interview about working at the Smithsonian. “We come up with an idea and look in our collections and find material, and then write the story and tell the story of the American Indian, using the Indian voice. And that’s the way—the ideal way—to do such things.”
He was recognized for his work with an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Montana State University-Bozeman. He was also a presidential appointee to the National Museum Services Board.
Horse Capture was born on October 20, 1937 in a log cabin on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. He served in the U.S. Navy for four years and then attended welding school in the San Francisco Bay Area. He was a participant of the American Indian Occupation of Alcatraz, which prompted his enrollment at the University of California-Berkeley where he earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology.
He then taught at the College of Great Falls from 1974-77 in Montana and attended Montana State University from 1977-79 to earn his master’s in history.
A full military service was held for Horse Capture on April 21.
“It was an incredible ceremony,” said Ken Blackbird, Nakota (Assiniboine) and member of Fort Belknap Tribe, a friend and colleague of Horse Capture’s.
Horse Capture was buried at the Fort Belknap Community burial grounds after an all night wake.
Montana Sen. Jon Tester remembered Horse Capture in a post on CapitolWords.org. “George had a remarkable life filled with service to his people and to our country,” Tester wrote. “George's life and his commitment to his people and his community is a reminder of the power of each individual to make a difference.”