Back in New Mexico, it is harvest time. The crops of the Jemez Pueblo -- corn, chilies, beans and melon -- are ready for picking, and as soon as she returns, Amelita Toledo will be back in the fields.

But yesterday, in her 89th year, she witnessed a different gathering. Native peoples all around her, in the heart of the nation's capital. So familiar and yet so different.

"All kinds of Indians you never see," she said with quiet satisfaction. "So many tribes."

On this first visit to Washington, Toledo was accompanied by her granddaughter, Amy Tang. Both are charter members of the new museum. They sat quietly in a side section just west of the stage as the official program began.

"I came with the expectation that this would be a feast for the eyes," Tang said, camera in hand. "It's home, and yet it's still foreign."

-- Susan Levine

Many Ways to Say 'Hello'

Three attractive young men stood on a small wooden platform opposite the West Building of the National Gallery of Art. The Eastern Pequot walked past, yellow feathers waving. The Fort Mojave Indian Tribe followed, their satin-ribbon trim shimmering in the sun.

Members of the Jicarilla Apache Nation delegation from Dulce, N.M., let out a cheer. The men on the platform -- all wearing their native seal-skin boots and handmade kuspuk liners to keep out the snow -- whooped back, like seals.

From below came the standard greeting of the day. "Where are you from?" asked a man in a black Stetson.

"Alaska," said one of the three, who had a long ponytail.

"Where in Alaska?" asked the Stetson.

"Anchorage," said the ponytail.

"Camai!" the Stetson said confidently, using the Inupiat word for hello. It came out sounding like "Chi-mai."

The man wearing the Stetson was Ron Andrade, director of the Native American Indian Commission in Los Angeles and a member of the La Jolla Indian Reservation of north San Diego County.

"If he'd said he was from Southeast Alaska, I'd have known they were Tlingit and I wouldn't have said camai," Andrade later explained to an observer. "We have to know our historical background. This is how we find our friends, how we tell where people are from, by their dress or their names."

Only the man with the ponytail wasn't Inupiat.

He was Ossie Kairaiuak, 35, a Yup'ik Eskimo and a member of the musical group Pamyua (pronounced BUM-yo-ah), which performs northern indigenous music with doo-wop and street-corner calypso influences. The group has learned many of the six major native languages and 200 dialects in Alaska.

"We're a lot more than most people think," Kairaiuak said.

-- Maureen Fan

Together, as Foretold

There is an Indian proverb, Corie Adakai was saying. When the condor from the south and the eagle from the north come together, "then the Indian people will come together, too."

Though no birds circled overhead at Fourth Street and Jefferson Drive, which Adakai and her husband had claimed hours earlier, as Choctaw followed Pomo followed Cherokee, the proverb seemed fitting.

"It makes my heart happy to see this unity," Adakai said.

"A chance to get our cultures, traditions, ceremonies, songs together," Frank Adakai added.

She is Chippewa, he Navajo. Together, the couple run wellness and healing conferences in Albuquerque, where they live, and across the country.

Nothing could have kept them away. "If I had to walk, I would have been here," she said.

-- Susan Levine

An Apache Blessing

A man in a black hood, peepholes for eyes, approached a baby stroller.

He wielded two wooden sticks. His chest was painted with white stripes. Bells on his hips shook. A headdress made him appear taller. Drums pounded behind him. The man touched the sticks to the baby's feet, the baby's knees, the baby's head.

The child's mother looked on calmly.

And then, in a moment, the man was gone.

A woman in a red velvet dress approached the mother to explain.

"That was our chief dancer and he has just blessed your child," said Kathy Wesley-Kitcheyan, chairwoman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

-- Maureen Fan

'Too Long in Coming'

The ceremonial dress was one that Teryl Florendo's great-great-grandmother had once worn: a fringed and beaded buckskin dress for a ceremonial powwow, with beaded wrappings for her hair and matching moccasins.

Now it was Teryl's turn. She and other members of her family -- three generations in all -- had driven from the West Coast. Yet walking beside her elders, behind the banner that announced "Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Oregon" -- the quiet 14-year-old seemed almost overwhelmed.

Her grandmother was the one to put words to the moment. "It's something honoring all our people, our Indian people," said Eileen Spino, whose own dress, heavily laden with cowrie and other shells, was nearly as elaborate. "We're all one nation, regardless of how many tribes."

The museum's opening evoked only one regret, Spino said. "It's taken too long in coming. Too long for the Indian nations to be recognized."

-- Susan Levine

A Time to Teach

"Are you a Native American?" a man asked Orlo Ransom bluntly. "What state are you from?"

Ransom took the questions in stride. Another chance to educate, he figured. Yes, he was a Mohawk from New York who has lived all his life on the Akwesasne Reservation. He and his wife, a former tribal leader, had journeyed with 60 others by bus, convinced, as Alma Ransom explained, that the museum would do a "tremendous amount of good" in changing perceptions and helping people understand past and present.

"They'll see the differences, the elegance and the culture that we're proud of," she said.

And also, she might have added, the struggles that Native Americans still face.

Her husband smiled as the stranger walked away. "A lot of people are wishing us luck on our sovereignty and our land-claim rights," he said.

-- Susan Levine

A Lesson Come Alive

The leather fringes, the conch shells and the pounding drums paraded past an orderly line of second-graders from Georgetown Day School.

Soon they would be studying Native Americans in school. But here was the real thing: the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, the Luna son Peru and the State Council on Hawaiian Heritage.

Chief Lionel Bell, 40, of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming stepped toward them, his huge feather headdress catching every child's eye.

Eleanor Barker, 8, raised her face and fixed Bell with a serious stare. "Were your ancestors Indians?" she asked.

"Yes," Bell replied, smiling and shaking her hand. "I'm a chief, and there are more chiefs coming behind me. We always tell our kids you're our greatest resource. We do what we do for our children."

-- Maureen Fan

An Opportunity to Learn

There was the man who flashed an eagle's claw, attached to the end of a stick. There were Indians from Hawaii. Another dignitary wore a mirror on his headband.

"Oh, look at that guy with the axes," one student said. "They're warriors."

For the 8- and 9-year-olds from St. Mary's School in Rockville, their last-minute field trip to the Mall was a moving lesson, in all ways.

Suddenly, there was a commotion near the fence. A student tugged at the arm of Amanda Boglarski, the fourth-grade teacher. It was urgent.

"The chief wants to meet you," the girl said.

-- Manny Fernandez

In Battle Garb but Not Bellicose

The advantage of wearing battle gear constructed primarily of bone or turtle shell revealed itself in security-conscious Washington.

Jerred Best, otherwise known as "Swift Cloud," of the Narragansett Indian Tribe in Rhode Island, was among those who quickly passed through the detectors at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. This despite a costume festooned with warlike accessories, including shield and leg rattles made of turtle shell.

"I went with the turtle theme," the 32-year-old explained. "There's very little metal in it."

-- Monte Reel

Following the Flock

Al Louis Cecere was willing to talk, but only if he kept walking. Experience had taught him that huge crowds were likely to swarm him and the hooded bald eagle resting on his arm.

Earlier, Cecere had marched in the parade with the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, which supports his American Eagle Foundation, a Tennessee-based preservation organization. Challenger is a 16-year-old male trained to free-fly during the national anthem. The bird has performed at the White House, five World Series, three Pro Bowls and many other events.

At Fourth Street and Independence Avenue, Cecere hesitated at a "Don't Walk" sign. Within seconds, a crowd of about 30 people gathered. Cecere removed Challenger's hood and prompted a collective gasp of star-struck appreciation. He launched into the memorized biography as the shutters clicked:

"He's performed at five World Series, three Pro Bowls . . . "

-- Monte Reel

Singing Again, 15 Years Later

Lawrence Baker, 37, was outside the museum's entrance, waiting patiently. He and his friends wore matching button-down shirts and jeans. They sat in a circle around a large drum.

Baker is a member of the White Oak Singers, representing three tribes from the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. The group was asked to sing before the doors opened to the public about 1 p.m.

Baker had been here before, in 1989, when the White Oak Singers performed during a sunrise ceremony at the site. It was just a flat patch of grass then, and Baker had no idea how they were going to fit a big museum there.

The building's golden limestone exterior towered above Baker. His group had picked out a special song to mark the occasion. "It's about new beginnings," he said.

-- Manny Fernandez

Lidia Doniz readies for a procession before the grand opening of the National Museum of the American Indian. She is from an Aztec tribe and lives in the San Francisco Bay area.Dressed in ceremonial garb, Lucas Mason, of the Paiute-Shoshone Tribe of the Fallon Reservation and Colony in Nevada, looks on during the opening ceremonies.Rosa Yearout of the Nez Perce Tribe of Lapwai, Idaho, cools herself during the Native Nations Procession. The image on the fan is that of the tribe's famed Chief Joseph. Participants in the Native Nations Procession take a moment to express themselves from the steps of the National Gallery of Art.