Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian

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Today we take a look at the many treasures of the Smithsonian Institute’s vast collection of Native American Art and artifacts. The museum has two locations one in New York City and one at the Mall in Washington D.C. Both locations are known for an extensive presentation including work from tribes throughout the Americas.  In addition to the museums, the Institue also has a research Center in Suitland, Maryland. 


The Hamilton Custom building is a beautiful Beaux Arts Building, the museum is contained in the first two floors and has about 20,000 square feet of exhibition space and a performing arts center for Native American Music and Dance.

The New York Museum in lower Manhattan is much smaller than its Washington counterpart but is still worth visiting. 


The much larger D.C. location is known for its innovative design, a unique cafe featuring native American cuisine, and over 4 acres of exhibition space.

The last of the Smithsonian Museums to be established the museum only came into being in September of 2004.  In the 1980’s native American leaders became aware that Smithsonian had thousands of indigenous artifacts mostly in storage. Native Americans began petitioning Congress to put these items on display. The National Museum of the Native American Act called not only for the building of a National Museum but even more important for the repatriation of many of the artifacts and especially human remains to the indigenous tribes. Since this law has been enacted over 5,000 human remains have been returned to the tribes.


Many of the exhibits also have a video screen that explains the history and spiritual significance of the objects displayed.


The museum doesn’t try to sugarcoat the history of the Native American peoples. Native American tribes suffered greatly under colonialism and the misguided policies of many of the new nations of the Americas.
Jewelry of the Navajo tribe
Artifacts of the Southwestern U.S. tribes
A sculpture of a Navajo woman with a loom.
A statue from the atrium of the Washington D.C. Museum


Some of the museum’s many murals
Sioux woman with child
A very well preserved Chieftan headdress
Ceremonial mask from Plains Indian Tribe
Innuit Sculpture
Totem of the Pacific Northwest Tribes

The museums are located in Washington D.C. and New York City. Both are free.  Monday, October 8th, is Columbus Day in the United States. There has been considerable pressure to change the day to honor indigenous First Nation peoples instead. Many cities have already chosen to do this. So far on a federal level, the idea has met with resistance.  Regardless of your personal opinion on the issue,  visiting the museum will give one pause to remember the vast natural treasure that is our indigenous heritage and to honor the people whose land we now call our own. 




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