Inside the National Museum
of the American Indian
National Museum of the American Indian
So far as I’m concerned, the best museum in America is the Smithsonian. Except it isn’t really a museum but rather a series of them, each dedicated to a given subject. And while most of these stand along the Mall in Washington, D.C., a few are scattered elsewhere, including the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, and the National Museum of the American Indian’s George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. Having visited the Smithsonian on the Mall sometime in the early 2000s—probably in 2004 or 2005—I’d always planned to return. On my agenda for this trip were the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. As it turned out, I couldn’t obtain tickets for the last, which is just as well considering the vast amount of time I spent in the other two.
Unlike the other Smithsonian attractions, there wasn’t a line to get in National Museum of the American Indian due to a lack of interest. This is unfortunate because here visitors can learn about Native American culture, see art both past and modern, and immerse themselves in a part of U.S. history schoolbooks would do well to look at in much greater detail. The museum building—an architectural wonder—rises four floors, though only the third and fourth have exhibits. The first contains a few displays plus a small gift shop and a café that serves Native American foods, and the second has nothing but a much larger gift shop.
Exhibits are well designed and include numerous activities for children, always a good idea because they do have a tendency to get bored easily. One of my favorite galleries was The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire. Another one I especially liked was Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations that focuses on the mistreatment and forced removal of Native Americans to the west. One especially appalling idea the U.S. government once implemented was the hideous termination program that removed tribes from their reservations, confiscated their land, relocated them to urban centers, and withdrew their people’s special status. Fortunately resistance and public opinion put a stop to this. I think we owe the Native Americans much to this day, though what compensation we offer is never going to undo the damage done in terms in the loss of life as well as culture, history and language. I also believe the United States committed outright genocide against them. This idea is briefly mentioned, but there ought to be an entire exhibit dedicated to the subject.