National Museum of the American Indian - Smithsonian Institution

Smithsonian
National Museum of the American Indian - Smithsonian Institution photo
(Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
9/8 - 12/8

Ongoing exhibits:

Learn about the history and culture of Native Americans through images and artifacts of daily life.
Through 12/12

As We Grow: Traditions, Toys and Games

A new permanent exhibition at the museum displays more than 100 objects that show how Native American children play. The toys, games and clothing in these cases come from all over North, Central and South America and represent more than 30 tribes.
Through 1/5/15

Indelible: The Platinum Photographs of Larry McNeil and Will Wilson

An exhibition of works by the artists, who challenge the idea that North American Indians are a "vanishing race."
Through 2/1/15

Ceramica de los Ancestros: Central America's Past Revealed

Central American ceramics from 1000 B.C. to the present are on view.
12/5 - 4/12/15

Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea

An exhibition exploring the concept of womanhood as represented through the Virgin Mary features works from the Renaissance and Baroque eras.
Through 7/6/15

Our Lives: Contemporary Life and Identities

An exhibition examining how eight Native American communities live in the 21st century.
9/21 - 6/30/17

Nation to Nation: Treaties between the United States and American Indian Nations

An exhibition exploring the importance of Native American diplomats and leaders focuses on the relationship between Indian nations and the founding fathers.
2/2/20

The Sublime World of Noel Coward

Steve Ross performs an evening of music and words about Sir Noel Coward. At the Rasmuson Theater.
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Editorial Review

The Buzz: The newest addition to the Mall, this Smithsonian museum honors diverse Native American cultures by asking community members to put history in their own words.

Background: The idea for this museum had been in the works since 1980, but it wasn't until 1989 that Congress passed a bill for the National Museum of the American Indian to be built on the Mall. The building, which opened in 2004, cost $219 million and offers 250,000 square feet of exhibition space.

The Collection: The bulk of the museum's holdings come from the estate of George Gustav Heye, an engineer and investment banker who amassed an extensive collection of Native American objects over the course of 45 years.

When laying out the space, curators and designers met with representatives from nearly 150 native groups. Their influence is apparent in exhibition wall text. For example, instead of offering an anthropological or scientific explanation for how Native Americans came to North America, the labels share the beliefs and creation stories of various native communities.

When it opened, the museum endured some criticism for this community-based approach and for avoiding exhibitions on genocide and other negative fates that have befallen Native American communities.

Programs: The museum offers a regular schedule of films, dance performances, readings and craft workshops. The interactive workshops and dance performances are popular with kids.

Extras: Inside the building, the exhibitions cover less than 30 percent of the space. The rest is devoted to other functions, including two theaters, the ceremonial atrium and performance pit, a library center, the gift shops and a food court serving primarily Indian fare.

Directions/Parking: Parking is rare but may be available on Jefferson Drive. The L'Enfant Plaza Metro stop is a better bet.

(Updated July 21, 2010)