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Native American Women Warriors
The Native American Women Warriors open the Smithsonian Folklife Festival with a presentation of the colors at the National Museum of the National Native American Veterans Memorial on the grounds of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., on June 26, 2024. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Smithsonian celebrates Indigenous cultures in nation’s capital
Folklife Festival runs through July 1 on National Mall
Thursday, June 27, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. — For the first time in the history of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the multi-day celebration in the nation’s capital focuses entirely on Indigenous peoples.

Over six days, more than 250 artisans, musicians, chefs, dancers, storytellers and even athletes from Indigenous communities throughout the Americas are showcasing their cultures and heritages on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. At a welcoming ceremony on Wednesday, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who is the first Native person to serve in a presidential cabinet, heralded the “beauty and bounty” that festival participants are sharing with the public.

“Every day that we celebrate, every day that we dance and sing and pray, we strengthen the bonds that assimilation policies sought to break among Native people,” said Haaland, who is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, a tribal nation located in New Mexico.

Indianz.Com Video:>Secretary Deb Haaland at 2024 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

But the 2024 festival also marks a significant milestone for an important institution. The event commemorates the 20th anniversary of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), which debuted in September 2004 with an unprecedented gathering of Native peoples.

Cynthia Chavez Lamar was working as a curator at NMAI at the time of the opening. Now serving as the institution’s director, she is making history as the first Native woman to lead a Smithsonian museum, one whose mission is being reinforced with the ongoing celebration in D.C.

“The museum ensures our visibility as Native people in the narratives about America, which remains a strong commitment of the museum,” said Chavez Lamar, a citizen of the Pueblo of San Felipe, also located in New Mexico.

“And what better way to contribute to that visibility than with a Folklife Festival program that showcases the rich diversity and cultural heritage of Indigenous people and communities of the Western Hemisphere,” Chavez Lamar continued.

Indianz.Com Video:>NMAI Director Cynthia Chavez Lamar at 2024 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

The festival formally began on Wednesday with a presentation of the colors by the Native American Women Warriors, a group of Native women who have served in the U.S. military. Haaland, whose veteran father is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in neighboring Virginia, was visibly moved by the procession at the National Native American Veterans Memorial (NNAVM) on the grounds of the NMAI.

Wearing jingle dresses and carrying an eagle staff and various flags, the Native American Women Warriors continue to present the colors to start each day of the festival, which runs through July 1. Visitors can find them at the NNAVM at 11am Eastern.

Throughout the six-day celebration, NMAI serves as a hub for a number of performances, presentations and panels. Amy Bruton Bluemel, a storyteller from the Chickasaw Nation; the all-women Zuni Olla Maidens dance and singing group from the Pueblo of Zuni in New Mexico; and Nadia Larcher, a Calchaquí musician from Argentina; are among those gracing the spaces at the facility.

Elena Terry
Chef Elena Terry prepares succotash during a food demonstration at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., on June 27, 2024. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The National Mall itself hosts even more places to experience Indigenous life. Visitors can watch chefs like Elena Terry from the Ho-Chunk Nation prepare succotash using Native food products; learn about Pueblo ceramics from Kathleen Wall and her family members from the Pueblo of Jemez; and watch Zapotec weaver Gladys Garcia Flores from Mexico create textiles out of silkworms and natural dyes.

Altogether, the Folklife Festival participants represent a diverse range of cultural practitioners from American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities in the United States, along with First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples from Canada. To the south, Indigenous peoples from Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil are also being showcased.

For a complete schedule, visit