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National Museum of the American Indian | Washington, D.C.

During my recent trip to DC I finally made it to the American Indian museum. I'd always been fascinated by the architecture, but passed up a visit on previous trips. I'm glad I made time to experience it on this last trip. More than the exhibits themselves - which are okay, but not fabulous - I enjoyed learning about the way in which they built the museum, collected the exhibits, and grouped everything thematically.

There are no right angles, every room flows seamlessly into the next, and the foyer is one of the most stunning of any Smithsonian. Every tribe represented in the museum contributed the artifacts for their specific exhibit, and every tribe named a co-curator to work with Smithsonian staff. What a fantastic collaboration.

Something that stood out to me is that every tribe has an exhibit explaining their creation legend. I like the way the website explains it: "...Native cosmology — the worldviews and philosophies related to the creation and order of the universe — and the spiritual relationship between mankind and the natural world." To be completely honest, so many tribes are represented and while the displays are beautiful they are really text-heavy. Trying to take in all the information is impossible in the time I had, so I got the basic idea and read in detail the legends of only a few tribes.

I've spent more than my fair share of time in museum cafes on both sides of the Atlantic and I can say without a doubt that the Mitsitam Cafe is by far the most interesting and creative. They group the cuisine by region and then serve traditional dishes of the tribes that live in that region (all from the
Western hemisphere; including the Northern Woodlands, South America, the Northwest Coast, Meso America, and the Great Plains). It's such a great idea, I loved it.

The most striking exhibit is one discussing the arrival of the Europeans. You leave a room filled with gold and art and relics of thriving, wealthy, self-sufficient tribes...and you turn the corner to walk down a hallway filled with bibles and guns. I think the display speaks for itself. I'm glad they didn't skirt around this issue and I'm glad it makes people uncomfortable. It should.






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