English 39

Native Americans

Native Americans stood tall in lush robes, feather headdresses and nut necklaces. The smell of burning herbs sweetened the air. The ground shaken1 as drums pounded, and bells jingled. Washington, D.C. was a scene of celebration as the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), the newest addition to the Smithsonian Institution opened2 its doors. More than 25,000 people marched across the National Mall, some of whom had traveled from as far as Alaska and Brazil to join in.3

In the mid-1970’s, officials of the Smithsonian and the Museum of the American Indian, run by the Heye Foundation in New York City, met to discuss if a national museum should be created or not.4 At that point, not one of the 400 monuments in the nation’s capital was dedicated to Native Americans, who’s5 history on the North American continent goes back as far as 35,000 years. Thanks to the efforts of people such as Senator Daniel Inouye, moreover,6 the museum in New York, along with the 800,000 items it once held, is now a part of the Smithsonian.

What makes the NMAI unique is the way its stories are told. Instead of giving a history lesson, loaded with names and dates,7 the museum aims to show the relationship between nature and the emotions of many tribes. “Features such as mountains, mesas, hills, rivers and lakes hold special importance,”8 explains Duane Blue Spruce, a Laguna Indian who worked on the museum’s design. More than9 just a museum, the NMAI will also be a symbol of Native culture. The building faces east to greet the sunrise, as many Native structures do. The museum’s café offers Native-themed foods such as buffalo chili, and pumpkin cookies.10

Since11 the National Museum of the American Indian features remarkable photographs and paintings, its true treasures are the thousands of handmade objects. Large display areas feature masks, medals, dolls, arrowheads, bowls and baskets. Some items are more than 2,000 years old. [12] Furthermore, the staff members, whom are largely American Indian, understand that visitors may want to interact with exhibits; many Native people believe that objects build a bridge to ancestors. A shirt is not just a shirt, for example, but also a symbol of the person whom once13 wore it.

The NMAI does not gloss over American Indians’ sometimes painful past, including wars and prejudice. But visitors also learn modern tales of hope and courage. The museum is as much about today than it is14 about yesterday. Over the next few weeks, close to 250,000 people are expected to visit the museum.15