NATIONAL MUSEUM of the AMERICAN INDIAN
Photo by Jeff Kubina
The architectural team who took on the challenge of designing the National Museum of the American Indian had a very difficult task. They were charged by Native American elders to "tell the truth" - esentially translating a whole host of abstract cultural ideas into concrete reality. Their final design for the perfect building paid off. Located on the Capitol Mall, the distinctive 5-story limestone structure is breathtaking. The curvilinear building was built to look like it was formed by wind and rain. It is as striking and remarkable as the Native peoples it represents.
I was happy for the opportunity to participate in a recent event at the National Museum of the American Indian, but what I enjoyed the most was simply being there. It is a house dedicated and filled with a myriad of Native American voices.
The museum itself has been subject to a lot of mixed reviews. People seem to be wanting more history and a larger reflection of Native American communities. My understanding is that the museum was directed by living Natives and carried out in a way that veers away from the traditional approach of western museums. Personally, I believe the task of telling the collective story of all Native American tribes is daunting at best, if not impossible.
A Song for the Horse Nation exhibition is taking place now at the NMAI. It is an inspiring display that shares the compelling story of Native peoples and horses. For many tribes, Horse Nation was the name that was used to describe the equine family that they were so close to. The exhibit will end on the first week of the new year. Directly following the exhibit, a Native Storytelling Festival will take place on January 13-15, 2012. The timing is perfect, particularly because many tribes believe the winter season is the right time for storytelling.
If you are not able to make it to the Capitol, make sure you explore the NMAI website. You can take a virtual walking tour that will show you around the property and give detailed meaning about the chosen architecture and landscape. Also, check out the fascinating story behind American Indian Code talkers - Native peoples who were asked by the U.S. military to develop secret battle communication using their own language during WWI and WWII.