by Katie Calvert
The sixteenth museum of the Smithsonian Institution was the first national museum dedicated to the preservation, study and exhibition of the life, languages, literature, arts and history of
The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), which opened in 2004, looks like no other building on the National Mall.
With its curved lines and Kasota stone exterior, the museum’s design evokes Native American cliff dwellings of the Southwest.
A beautiful landscape of wetland, forest, cropland, and meadow surrounds the building, reflecting the connection between Native Peoples and the land.
The National Museum of the American Indian has sister locations at the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City and the Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland. Heye was a wealthy New Yorker whose collection, amassed during a 45-year period and previously housed in New York, forms the basis of the museum’s materials.
One of the museum’s goals is to show the diversity of Native American life and culture; geographically, the museum covers American Indian life from the Arctic to Bolivia.
Beautifully carved masks from the Northwest, distinctive pottery and intricate baskets from the Southwest, and feather bonnets from the Plains all help tell the stories of the different tribes whose way of life changed with the arrival of Europeans.
The collection ranges from archaeological objects used in everyday life to objects used by chiefs and shamans in specific rituals. The underlying narrative of cultural survival despite war and disease is ever present.
Information about current exhibitions, events, education and outreach programs is available on the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian website.
Website and all photos copyright © 2001–2016 Lee W. Nelson