Squirrel's Secret Spot 12: Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

on Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Back in 2005, I had exactly half a day during the week and two days over the weekend to sightsee in Washington D.C. I had imagined myself spending one and a half days trying to cram in all the Smithsonian Museums and the final day touring the numerous monuments and memorials. Of the museums, I was targeting the Air and Space Museum and Natural History museum. However, on that first free half day, I stumbled upon the Smithsonian's newest museum, the National Museum of the American Indian (opened in 2004). I liked it so much, I returned the next day and spent another half day there; severely curtailing my visit to the Air and Space Museum to just a couple of hours and causing me to miss the Natural History Museum altogether.

I am not idolising the Native Peoples. They are human as are all of us and because of that, they have their short-comings and flaws. However, also because of that, there is also greatness and as it is in all cultures, there is both common and unique wisdoms and perspectives of life. These are jewels worth preserving and worth knowing and internalising. I am glad that the U.S. finally is promoting and showcasing the cultures of their First Peoples.

The museum is good and has room for improvement. Amongst the first things to try is their cafeteria which gives you an opportunity to try the traditional staples and meats of native peoples throughout the American continent. I could spend a few lunches there.

There were of course many interesting exhibits of the different tribes and peoples. One of my favorite places was this dark chamber where you can sit and listen to different stories and fables. I could fall a sleep and find myself in those stories when I dream.

Of course, the museum has also to deal with the dark truth of the decimation of the native peoples with the coming of the Europeans. There is a wall with all the names of all the tribes and native peoples in the Americas. All have been decimated and many have even ceased to be but their names still live on in the stories told and on the wall was these words, "We are the Evidence." And now, there is this fantastic museum to help keep their names from fading into the mists of time.

The beautiful curves of the Museum

The stylised harmonious first meeting of Whites and Natives (on left is a Chinese U.N. Observer)

The faces of a people....the Yakima.

It is claimed that the U.S. constitution was based on the constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy which included the Mohawk.

My Mohawk Pin-up Girl. (I mean it with the greatest respect. I believe she represents the strength of grace and form, the power of a resilient people.)

The Craftmanship of the Native Peoples

The Superior Killing Technology of the Whites

The Names that call out to be remembered.

All photos by LGS.


squirrelmama said...

Thank you for a beautiful post. I had the privilege of living just outside Washington, D.C., in the 70s, and made it to the Smithsonian quite a few times then - and infrequently now since graduating college in Maryland and moving back to NY. Unfortunately this beautiful national museum opened long after my departure from the city, so I will absolutely have to get back there.
By the way, you may want to mention the white squirrels people see in Washington too. Even the native Americans of the U.S. would appreciate sharing the limelight with them!

A Happy Downtowner said...

A beautiful post and tribute to the native Americans. Thank you for sharing your pictures.

Canada has had many issues with Natives (not sure if you heard about the Oka standoff years ago, with the bloody conclusion, sad situation)the life on reservations is not good, alcoholism, suicide rates are high, which when you stop to look at it in depth, you understand just how limited they are. In many provinces, they're second class citizens.

And yet, it's a beautiful culture and one that we should all know more about it, after all, most of us are descendants of the people who invaded the country. Unfortunately the knowledge of the culture is not pushed enough. Still some artists are making a name for themselves. So there "is" a chance for the next few generations, at least that's my hope.

Dr.John said...

I had a wonderful family in my last parish. The mother was a full blooded Indian and one of her sons imersed himself in Indian history. He taught at a college. He made a birch canoe. He translated and saved very old recordings of the indian language his people spoke. I used to love just sitti9ng and listening to him or his mother tell tribal stories.

Dr.John said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
patterns of ink said...

I love museums and here in the Midwest there are lots of Native American historical venues. By the way, I live in Ottawa County, named for the Ottawa Indians.

MedStudentWife said...

I'm going to have to check this one out for sure !!! Thanks for the post :D

If you are in Mexico City, and being interested about the people of the place, I would really recommend the Museo Nacional de Antropologia. I spent a day there, but it wasn't enough - I ended up rushing it.

Marja said...

Sounds fascinating. I love stories and tales which carry ancient wisdom. Most have been a great experience

Ruth D~ said...

Nice overview of the museum. It would take a lifetime to visit all the places on my list. Sometimes these sneak peeks help.

Claire said...

Love this! I was born in Washington D.C. and grew up in the area. My mom still lives there so when I visit, I always make a trip or two downtown. There's so much to see!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I had heard of the white squirrels and even seen a photo of one but did not personally encounter any when I was there. Are they a variant of the grey squirrel?

I think Canada did somewhat better with their treatment of the native peoples but even so many mistakes (well intended or not) were made and more should be done to improve the lives of the First Peoples.

Oka though was a shocking demonstration of both racism and greed. I hope Canada will not have more of those incidents.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

dr. john,
We all need a sense of self awareness, self worth and identity. It is sad how the American Indian has in many instances been forced to give up theirs. The young man you mentioned is a hero in keeping their history and story alive through the skills and traditions. I too would have enjoyed listening to his and his mother's tribal stories.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

What a coincidence that you live in a place named after the Ottawa peoples ( I studied in Ottawa, Canada....I presume named similarly). Are there many native peoples living in your state and are they confined to reservations? I would also be interested if there is any church activity amongst them.

I have not been to Mexico but am sure would make a visit to the museum of anthropology if I had a chance. A funny thing but I had a number of Algonquin Indian friends when I was in Ottawa. I met them through the native artist in the Byward Market by the name of Shin-go-si. I had long shoulder length hair and was wearing a baseball cap and he thought I was a native Indian brother and that started a conversation and friendship.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

The tales that survive the test of time usually have great wisdom or they would not have lasted. I enjoy listening to them.

Well. The Smithsonian Museums are all superlative. You are so lucky to have them all along the Mall. If I had the time, I believe I could spend at least three days in each museum.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

It was a most interesting city to visit. I liked the quiet of the Georgetown area and the C & O Canal.

the walking man said...

Very good and thoughtful post Squirrel. Have to agree that the Europeans and their belief in Manifest Destiny was not a good thing for thriving cultures.

Did you know that during the thirties as a part of the New Deal under FDR, a whole group of biographers were sent out to the native Peoples as well as emancipated slaves that were still living and chronicled their stories.

These were available on line at the Library of Congress portal. It is not done as a written transcript but rather the actual audio recordings.

Some fascinating stuff there.


Janice Thomson said...

I like the idea of the "We Are The Evidence" wall. To publicly admit your wrongdoing takes great courage.
I would enjoy that museum immensely.
Thank you for this wonderful tribute to Native peoples.

On a limb with Claudia said...

Wow! What a great place to visit. Living in Colorado, we are around so many "native" people (they call themselves: "ind'ns"). They are really interesting cultures, historically and currently. It's amazing to see the poverty on any reservation and the resilience of the people. It's also amazing to see the tremendous wealth of some tribes. Interesting world we live in!

Thanks for sharing your trip!

How's the back?

meggie said...

A lovely post, LGS, & I wish I could visit that Museum.
Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I didn't realize the Smithsonian had added a museum. Sounds fantastic -I'll check it out next time I'm in DC. I spent a summer when I was 16 babysitting my younger sibs there. We spent many happy hours exploring the museums.

tsduff said...

I happy for you. I was supposed to see Washington DC last March, but things morphed and we met a fellow blogger in Chicago instead. It was fun, but I DID miss the Smithsonian :( Glad it was so intriguing for you xo

How is your back doing these days?

jmb said...

We spent five days in Washington DC and went from museum to museum. We had it all planned out, this one in the morning, a different one in the afternoon. We kept falling behind and sometimes we would go in and split up because we wanted to see different things.

I thought this museum was wonderful. As you know I am an aficionado of the native American culture, especially their artwork.

I enjoyed this post LGS.

geewits said...

I didn't know about that museum. We went in 2002 and the one that touched me was the Holocaust Museum. The Smithsonian is so huge I picked one thing I wanted to see:the Hope Diamond, and I saw it. I have Native American blood through my mother and my daughter has it from both sides. I love their spirituality. It's a shame what the early whites did to them, but I doubt it was any of my people. I always imagined that I was descended from lazy drunk prisoners that were dumped on the east coast.

Anonymous said...

When I read anything on Washington DC I am more resolved to go there for a few days and spend time exploring the city and all its treasures. My husband and I were planning a trip there, however, we are now in the throes of planning a wedding for the fall now and so, I think, we will likely wait till after the wedding to go explore that wonderful city. The one thing I hope to do when we get there is to take a tour on a Segway. I heard they are programmed to take you on various tours, you just get on them and presto, they drive you to where your tour takes you. Not sure if that is true or not, but we will see once/when we get there. Interesting post.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Thanks for the info. From what little I know, FDR was quite the visionary. I respect him.

It does take courage to admit one's mistake but there is still an urgent need to improve the lot of the first peoples especially on reservations even today.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I know little of the Indian tribes in your area. I am sure there are so many interesting things to learn about them too.

I hope you will get the chance to visit one day.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

That must have been a memorable summer.

My back is much better though I still walk with a shuffle and can't walk fast. Thanks for enquiring.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

You would enjoy this museum although the artwork of the Pacific Northwest native tribes which you get in Vancouver are really in a class of its own.

Well, I am learning! I did not know there was a Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.. Still it takes courage to visit a place like that. As to your native American lineage, what is is? Cherokee?

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Again, congrats. I wish you all the best with your daughter's wedding. I say the Segways when I was there. I don't think they are remotely programmed - you still need to steer and follow the guide leader but it looks fun.

MedStudentWife said...

mmmm I'm trying to be witty on your reply to my comment...

You had long hair !!!

geewits said...

Yes. I'm pretty sure that's what my Mom told me. My daughter has a touch of that and her great-grandmother was registered as 1/4 Choctaw.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

poor student + don't know how to cut own hair - barber rates too high = long hair.

I remember reading somewhere that the Cherokee were very advanced cause they had their own printable alphabet.

Odat said...

Every time we went to DC, I would spend loads of time at the Smithsonean. I didn't realize either that there was a new addition...something I have to add to my list.
Oh and being the "shopper" that I am, I love the museum shops and always try to get a lil something from each. (that can get very expensive sometimes).
Thanks for sharing your pics and your perspective.

Sincerity said...

Ooh! A new museum in Washington! I am so going this summer! Thanks for sharing! The different foods sound so delicious!

Happy 301st post, by the way! :) I love you Grey Squirrel you just keep on being you. :)

Gina said...

what a beautiful tribute to American Indian. Thank you for sharing this refreshingly positive glimpse of Original American culture.

Gina said...

PS i love the mesa-design of the museum. Amazing!

bettygram said...

Great post. Hope I get there to visit sometime, it has been about 38 years ago that I visited WashingtonD C.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Perhaps the most important philosophy to come out of the Native American experience is the phrase, "Mitakuye Oyasin," which means "We are all related" in Lakota.

The second most important idea might be Indian fry bread.

I believe that if they were still in charge of this North American land mass, the entire world would be much better off.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I like museum shops too and can spend a long time in them but budget dictates I spend only a little in cash. Hope you like this new museum.

What a nice thing to say. Thanks. I hope you enjoy the museum. Culture and food is a good mix.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

The design is nice and graceful indeed. The central space is also very nicely done.

Your return trip to Washington D.C. is long overdue. Hope you will enjoy this museum.

I agree that the world would probably be a lot better if North America was still under native control.

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