Big Plans for the Museum of the American Indian

(l-r) Lenape rattles, Hawaian gourd drum, Chilean mapuché drum, Andean armadillo charango (guitar)

Recently I attended a press conference and ceremony to kick off the addition of a new space at the National Museum of the American Indian at Bowling Green.  If you’re not familiar with it, this museum – the George Gustave Haye Center – is one of three facilities (one on the Mall in Washington DC and the other in Suitland, Maryland) that comprise the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. (I’ve reviewed their exhibits on Navajo jewelry and ledger art)  The event featured short speeches by museum and elected officials, as well as an Iroquois blessing ceremony.   

The Center, which opened 100 years ago on 155th Street & Broadway by George Gustave Haye, is reconfiguring the space with the goal of showing a more complete history of Native peoples, so their contributions are not erased.  As one of the speakers noted, in its present location, the Center is opposite Ellis Island, symbolically creating a dialogue between the Native peoples and the people who came to the Americas after them.

The Center will be modernizing its youth learning center, the imagiNATIONS Activity Center (iAC) by repurposing 4,500 sq. ft. of office space into exhibition, educational and administrative space, so the Center can expand its educational offerings to students, educators and visitors, while allowing for school partnerships and cross-cultural collaborations.   

The iAC will demonstrate the influence and impact of Native innovations and technologies and the Native American approach to innovation, critical thinking, creative problem solving and sustainability – all of which are clearly relevant to 21st century STEAM-based (science, technology, engineering,art, math) education.

Snow Goggles of walrus ivory by Tom Akeya, St. Lawrence Island Yup’ik, Alaska

There will be exhibits on Native foods, medicines, engineering, architecture and mathematics, showcasing the skills of the early Native peoples in both North and South America in agriculture, health care, bridge building, iglu and pueblo design, as well as the Mayan invention of the concept of zero!

The construction is slated to be completed in late 2017 and open to the public in April 2018.   I can’t wait!  In addition to its permanent and temporary exhibits, the museum offers a range of public programs, including music and dance performances, films, and symposia.  You can find more information on the museum’s website.   BTW, admission is FREE!

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