WITH MUSIC, DANCE and children's books, the National Museum of the American Indian can help families celebrate Native American Heritage Month throughout November.
Since opening in late September, this newest museum on the Mall has drawn such large crowds that timed-entry passes are required for admission (see below for details). Sound inconvenient? It's not, even with little kids in tow. But you can cut wait time considerably by visiting during the off-peak weekday or morning hours.
Museum technician Miranda Belarde-Lewis, who is Tlingit and Zuni, is especially excited by what the museum offers children. It depicts native kids' heritage from a native perspective. And for non-natives, it presents the diversity of the Native American experience and helps correct misconceptions in the larger society. "As they enter, kids are greeted by the huge wall of photos in the 'Our Lives' exhibit, with its emphasis on contemporary experience," said Belarde-Lewis, who worked on "Window on Collections," an exhibit of animal figurines, dolls and other objects made by Native Americans. As kids move through the museum, they can see that native culture is ongoing, not frozen in a particular historical time, she said.
The museum's resource center, on the third level, is a good starting point for people with some birth connection to a tribe but little knowledge of native traditions. My paternal great-grandmother was Cherokee, but I can answer only the most basic of my daughter's questions about my ancestor or the Cherokee Nation. Belarde-Lewis's advice to families like mine: Check with resource center staff for books and Web sites that can acquaint kids with this part of their heritage.
On a recent visit to the museum with four youngsters, I realized that its size (250,000 square feet), range of artifacts (8,000 on view) and different modes of presentation (photos, display cases, videos) encouraged each child to discover and linger long over a particular favorite. Simone Ameer, 5, liked the "Our Universes" exhibit, with its star-studded ceiling and animated videos of native tales. Her sister Margaux, 3, enjoyed peeking at the Indian girl and animals (bear, wolf, turtle) in the bronze sculpture by Edward Hlavka, a gift of the Oneida Indian nation. Nadine Ameer, 18 months, kept pointing excitedly at the expressive masks outside the main theater, part of a relief sculpture by Roxanne Swentzell, who is Santa Clara Pueblo. And my daughter, Christy, 6, loved identifying the natural materials (crane leg, wolf skin, sea lion tusks) used by the Hupa Indians of Northern California to fashion the whistle and headdresses on display.
All four girls enjoyed the dances depicted in a video of the Denver March Powwow, one of the largest annual gatherings of native peoples in North America. And they liked dining on the buffalo burgers and squash-and-bean salad served, along with other native dishes, in the cafe, called Mitsitam (meaning "let's eat" in the Piscataway and Delaware language). But their favorite experience was their romp through the Potomac, the large gathering place used for demonstrations and located just inside the entrance. Under rainbows cast by a prism window, kids skipped across the wooden floor while parents relaxed on nearby stone benches.
THE REST OF THE STORY
For families wishing to enhance their museum visit or celebrate heritage month in additional ways, Belarde-Lewis suggested reading books that accurately portray the native experience. The resource center makes available the museum's list of recommended children's titles (call 202-633-6900 or 202-633-6901 for a free copy).
The museum itself has emerged as an important publisher of children's books by native authors and illustrators. Since the early 1990s, its publications arm has been producing books and educational materials from offices in L'Enfant Plaza. Now based at the new museum, the publications office this month releases Belarde-Lewis's "Meet Lydia: A Native Girl From Southeast Alaska" (ages 9 to 12, co-published with Council Oak Books, $15.95), the third in its "My World: Young Native Americans Today" series, all with photos by John Harrington, who is Siletz. The book follows Lydia, a Tlingit girl, as she dances in a native festival, prepares salmon, weaves traditional blankets and learns to carve totem poles.
Perfect for family read-alouds are the "Tales of the People" titles that launched the museum's juvenile line in 1998 (all for ages 4 to 8, co-published with Abbeville Press, $14.95). These picture books might retell a story from the oral tradition, such as "How Raven Stole the Sun" by Maria Williams (Tlingit), with illustrations by Felix Vigil (Jicarilla Apache/Jemez Pueblo). Or they might provide contemporary adventures for a native trickster of the American West. In "Coyote in Love With a Star," author Marty Kreipe de Montano (Prairie Band Potawatomi) and illustrator Tom Coffin (Prairie Band Potawatomi/Creek) have Coyote seek his fortune in New York City, with its tall buildings and noisy subway. But Coyote thrives in his new environment, a native tribute to the resiliency of spirit.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN -- Fourth Street and Independence Avenue SW (Metro: L'Enfant Plaza). 202-633-1000 or 202-357-2020 (recording) (TTY: 202-357-1729). www.AmericanIndian.si.edu. Open daily 10 to 5:30, except Christmas. Free, same-day, timed-entry passes available on a first-come, first-served basis at museum entrance. There's a limit of six per adult per day. Advance tickets are available online at Tickets.com or by calling 866-400-6624, with a per-ticket fee of $1.75 plus a per-order fee of $1.50 charged by Tickets.com for online and phone orders. The limit is 10 per adult per day.
The museum's list of recommended Native American children's books is available free from the resource center by calling 202-633-6900 or 202-633-6901. Children's titles published by the museum are available in the Roanoke gift shop and online at the museum's Web site (click on the "National Museum of the American Indian" then "bookshop") as well as other online and regular bookstores.
HERITAGE MONTH PROGRAMS
Kayak Building -- Demonstrations take place in the Potomac at ground level Sunday to Wednesday through Nov. 14, and Nov. 17-24, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 to 3:30.
Dance and Music -- Kiowa-Comanche family ensemble presents songs and dances of the Southern Plains in the main theater on Nov. 18 and 19 at noon, Nov. 20 at 2. Free, but reservations are required; call 202-633-6995.
Films -- Three free films will be shown in the main theater this month. For titles and schedule, call 202-633-6995.
Here are additional Native American Heritage Month programs offered locally. Times are subject to change, so please call in advance. And check community centers and libraries for other events.
Arena Stage -- 1101 Sixth St. SW (Metro: Waterfront). 202-488-3300. www.arenastage.org. On Nov. 16, 18 and 19 at 10 and 11:30 a.m. "Coyote Tales," a play for ages 5 to 11. $5 adults, $4 children. Tickets available online at www.discoverytheater.com or by calling 202-357-1500.
Discovery Theater -- Arts and Industries Building, 900 Jefferson Dr. SW (Metro: Smithsonian). 202-357-1500. www.discoverytheater.com. Enter through west entrance as rest of Arts and Industries Building is closed for renovation. On Friday and Nov. 22 and 23 at 10 and 11:30 a.m., and Saturday at noon. "Coyote Tales," a play for ages 5 to 11. $5 adults, $4 children. Tickets available online or by calling 202-357-1500.
National Museum of African Art -- 950 Independence Ave. SW (Metro: Smithsonian and L'Enfant Plaza). 202-633-4600 or 202-357-2020 (recording) (TTY: 202-357-1729). www.nmafa.si.edu. Open daily 10 to 5:30, except Christmas. Free. On Nov. 14 at 2, "Black Indians: An American Story" in the Level 2 lecture hall. This film for ages 10 and up is about African Americans who are also of native descent.
National Museum of Natural History -- 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW (Metro: Smithsonian). 202-633-1000 or 202-357-2020 (recording) (TTY: 202-357-1729). www.mnh.si.edu. Open daily 10 to 5:30, except Christmas. Free. On Nov. 12 at noon, "The Ghost Riders" in Baird Auditorium. This film for ages 12 and up is about the annual Bigfoot Memorial Ride in remembrance of the Wounded Knee massacre.
National Postal Museum -- 2 Massachusetts Ave. NE (Metro: Union Station). 202-633-5555 or 202-357-2020 (recording) (TTY: 202-357-1729). www.postalmuseum.si.edu. Open daily 10 to 5:30, except Christmas. Free. Throughout November, families can pick up in the stamp gallery a free Heritage Hunt Activity Guide and look for stamps that focus on native culture. On Nov. 18 at 10:30, preschoolers accompanied by adult can make clay pots. Free in discovery center; reservations required by calling 202-633-5533.
Round House Theatre -- 8641 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring (Metro: Silver Spring). 240-644-1099.
www.round-house.org/silverspring.htm. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Nov. 12 at 10 and 11:30 a.m. "Coyote Tales," a play for ages 5 to 11; adults, $4 children. Tickets available online at www.discoverytheater.com or by calling 202-357-1500.