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)