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National Museum of the American Indian

On a recent trip for business and leisure, we visited the National Museum of the American Indian.  The building is absolutely exquisite.  The construction of the building has much meaning, and the small grounds around it are planted in various native species as well as traditional foods the rest of us associate with North America’s heritage.

Like every one of the Smithsonian museums, it is huge and in many ways overwhelming.  It is recommended that you start with their welcome video, which I recommend as well.  It’s not so much an orientation to the building, but to the spirit and importance of the building and what it holds.  It is a lovely museum that really honors the people it is trying to teach visitors about.  The museum represents 12,000 years of history of the peoples of the Americas – that’s a lot of history!

It is impossible to do it all in one day.  We chose to really explore some side galleries where they have chosen several of 1200 indigenous peoples the museum represents, but found it too much to take them all in.  We walked through the special exhibit on the horse that is currently there, and found it interesting and informative.

We did enjoy lunch at the Mitsitam Café.  There are five food stations where you can try food from the different regions of the Americas.  Like all museums, you need to consider it a donation when you pay up for your lunch, because it isn’t inexpensive.  But, it was delicious!  I particularly enjoyed the yucca salad.

I recommend reading the museum’s website about how the museum’s holdings came to be – another story of an individual man collecting everything he could put his hands on – George Heyes – during the early 1900s.  The story is sad as well.  Much was lost because of the size and warehouse conditions where most of it was stored in New York City.

I found the history of the laws involved in what museums can retain, and the repatriation of holdings very interesting.  In the fall of 2010, we visited the Anchorage museum; where it was reported that they had just had objects returned from the Smithsonian.  Connections between museums are fascinating.

Like so much in our nation’s capital, it’s worth many visits. There are so many monuments to the dead in DC; this is a monument to the living breathing peoples of our continent.  I plan to go there again the next time I’m in DC in order to take in more of the magnificent holdings, and to sit and have several moments of peace and quiet contemplation in the beautiful gardens.

2 Responses to National Museum of the American Indian

  1. Tom Prew July 27, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

    I was just here in February and your comments are right on the money.
    I like the fact that the collection includes items other than weapons and
    features clothing, jewelry, etc. The cafe is very cool but I always go for the buffalo, perhaps I will now be more adventurous.

  2. richr July 28, 2012 at 1:39 am #

    We agree about the collections. We also thought that their balance of past and present culture representations would help young visitors understand and challenge the image presented to them of what an “Indian” is in American popular culture such as TV shows, games, etc. (And, next time, we’ll try the buffalo!)

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