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A new museum celebrates American Indians: at this vibrant new cultural center, "Welcome" is said in many languages.

For Christopher Miller, 12, and his sister, Jennifer, 10, sharing their Navajo traditions can be difficult. The Miller kids live in Rockville, Maryland, while most of their cousins are growing up in Arizona, on the Navajo reservation.

But now, says Christopher, he and Jennifer can help to keep their traditions alive--and learn more about them--in nearby Washington, D.C. On September 21, the National Museum of the American Indian will open on the Mall, right across from the U.S. Capitol.

This is no ordinary museum, says architect Duane Blue Spruce, who helped plan the building's many unique features. It is meant to "give a sense of community pride [and to convey] the idea that there is a lot of worth in the history and culture" of American Indians.

Native peoples throughout the Western Hemisphere helped to create the museum--a place where all can gather to worship, dance, sing, tell stories, and share meals. The museum's Mitsitam Cafe, which means "let's eat" in the language of the Piscataway and Delaware peoples, will serve such traditional Native dishes as turkey in maple brine and yellow potato casserole.

The museum's exterior, made of golden limestone from Minnesota, is designed to evoke rock formations that have been carved over centuries by wind and water. Like many Native structures, it faces due east--to catch the rising sun--and is positioned to the four cardinal directions (see GeoSkills, p. 20). Crystal prisms in the vast circular lobby reflect the sun's rays, while an electronic board says "Welcome" in hundreds of Native languages.

The 4.25-acre site is landscaped with wetlands, a meadow, and corn and tobacco crops, all of which existed in the D.C. area before Europeans arrived.

A Passionate Collector

The museum will house 7,000 objects from a collection of 800,000 vases, dolls, headdresses, and other items amassed by George Gustav Heye (HIGH), a wealthy New Yorker who lived from 1874 to 1957. Heye made his first purchase--a deerskin shirt--from a Navajo woman in the early 1900s, when he was working in Arizona as an engineer. He became intensely interested in Native customs, and began to acquire objects in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and several other countries throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Many of those objects now have a beautiful new home, where young people like Christopher can connect to their heritage. Christopher is eager, too, for his classmates to visit the museum, so that they can "see how other people lived."

write it!

What do you know about your own heritage? Write an essay about some of the traditions your ancestors observed. If you have any family heirlooms (objects handed down), describe how they connect you to your past.


Students should understand

* The National Museum of the American Indian is a magnificent new showcase of Native peoples from throughout the Western Hemisphere.


Ask students: "What is the purpose of a museum? What types of museums exist?"


Indian tribes will be allowed to "commune" with the objects that the National Museum of the American Indian displays or keeps in storage. For example, tribes will be able to sprinkle cornmeal around an object to maintain their custom of "feeding and nourishing" the object's living spirit.


NOTING DETAILS: What is unique about the architectural design of the National Museum of the American Indian? (The museum's curved limestone exterior evokes rock formations hewn by wind and rain. The building is positioned to the four cardinal directions and its entrance faces east. This positioning is meant to emphasize the Native peoples' worship of the sun and sky. The site also includes wetlands and crops that existed during the pre-Columbian era of North America.)

MAKING CONNECTIONS: How will the new museum help Christopher and Jennifer Miller connect to their Navajo heritage? (The Millers live in Maryland near the museum, but far from their cousins who live on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. The museum will allow Christopher and Jennifer to learn about their culture, history, and how to keep their Native traditions alive.)


DESIGN A MUSEUM: Ask students to design a museum that celebrates their own cultural history Design plans should include a drawing of the building's layout and a written description of the artifacts that will be exhibited.



* Individuals, groups, and institutions: How various racial, religious, and ethnic groups create museums to honor and preserve their beliefs, cultures, and histories.



* Waldman, Carl, Atlas of the North American Indian (Facts on File, 2000). Grades 7-8.

* Bruchac, Joseph, Lasting Echoes: An Oral History of Native American People (HarperCollins, 1999). Grades 5-8.


* National Museum of the American Indian


* National Museum of the American Indian
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:News Special; Smithsonian Institution. National Museum of the American Indian
Author:McCabe, Suzanne
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 20, 2004
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