The new National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., doesn't open until next
week but members of the media were given a preview of the facility on
Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small called the museum a "visually
stunning place" that reflects the vision of the Native people it is designed
to showcase. "It is a tribute, frankly, that is long overdue," he said.
NMAI Director Rick West, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of
Oklahoma, agreed. He said the museum, the last to open on
the National Mall, is a "truly Native place" that confirms the
continued existence of American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native
Hawaiians and other indigenous communities.
Staff and consultants who played a critical role in the opening of the institution
were on hand to share their experiences. Donna House, a member of
the Navajo Nation, designed the ecosystem that will serve as
an introduction to the facility.
Featuring a wetlands, several billion-year-old rocks, plants and trees
indigenous to the area and a mini-field
with corn, tobacco and other crops, the welcome plaza is designed
to be sustainable, House said.
"The landscape is what Native people depend on," she explained
in an interview.
Visitors will enter the museum through the Potomac,
a large foyer designed for gatherings, dances and cultural
performances. A glance upwards reveals an all-white ceiling
with a portal to the sky and a prism that will reflect
the natural colors of the rainbow inside.
The five floors of the museum are immediately visible from
the entrance. Four floors are open to the public and are accessible
via a grand staircase or a bank of elevators.
The first floor includes a gift shop with jewelry, pottery
clothing and books, the Signature Theater for intimate performances
and the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe featuring
cuisine from throughout the hemisphere -- yes there's fry bread and
A second gift shop, meeting rooms
and exhibition spaces take up the next three floors. Open to the public
are "Native Modernism" featuring the works of Apache sculptor
Allan House and Chippewa painter and sculptor George Morrison,
"Our Universes," an explanation of Native cosmology
and worldviews and "Our Lives" and "Our Peoples," two exhibitions
that tell Native stories from the Native point of view. In total,
24 Native communities are represented.
Also of interest is the resource center on the third floor.
Members of the public will be able to come here to conduct research
and use computers to connect to the Internet. The room boasts a collection
of books and a spectacular view of the U.S. Capitol.
Marty DeMontano, a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation from
Kansas, runs the center. She called it an "interactive learning
center" that includes virtual exhibits created by Native
students who photographed and catalogued items from their
"It's the technology that's the hook that gets the kids interested,"
she said in an interview. Staff said the museum will prove exciting even for students
of younger ages.
The Smithsonian expects 4 million visitors a year to the museum,
National Museum of the American Indian - http://www.nmai.si.edu