National Museum of the American Indian - Smithsonian Institution

National Museum of the American Indian - Smithsonian Institution photo
(Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
Through 3/29

Elisha and the Cacao Trees

Follows the daily life of thirteen-year-old Elisha, daughter of a cacao farmer in Belize. Presented in conjunction with the Environmental Film Festival.
Through 3/29

The Power of Chocolate

Bolivian cacao growers discuss chocolate production. Also includes details on the scientific and medicinal properties of chocolate and about the cultures and communities that cultivate it.
Through 7/6

Our Lives: Contemporary Life and Identities

An exhibition examining how eight Native American communities live in the 21st century.
Through 12/29

Commemorating Controversy: The Dakota - U.S. War of 1862

An exhibition featuring 12 panels exploring the causes, voices, events and consequences of the conflict.
Through 12/12/18

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

An exhibition exploring the relationship between Native American nations and the United States.

The Sublime World of Noel Coward

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

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)