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American Indian

Year dedicated

Type of material
Stainless steel

President at the time
GW Bush

Annual visitors
2.5 million

Location/what’s nearby
Lincoln, Vietnam, WWII
and reflecting pool

Getting there
900 Ohio Drive SW

National Museum of the American Indian- 4th at Independence Ave, SW


Planning a trip to DC? Hard-to-predict local weather requires indoor days and outdoor days but the US Capitol is on everyone’s list. On an indoor day a reliable plan is to spend a few hours with the Old Masters Collection at the National Gallery of Art. Then, walk south across the National Mall where you’ll be able to capture excellent photos of the US Capitol – no matter what the weather

But what in the world is that building ahead of you? Your destination! This curvilinear, organic limestone structure designed by Native American architects suggests a very different way of viewing the universe. Enter at the lower level and up ahead there is a 120-foot-high circular space for contemporary Native performances.

Then on to lunch! This will not be just any lunch – the menu at the National Museum of the American Indian will offer foods native to both North and South American tribal areas. This means salmon, for instance, is flown regularly from Idaho, Alaska, or the state of Washington. There are five stations serving different regional foods: Northern Woodlands, South America, the Northwest Coast, Meso-America and the Great Plains. Possibly the cafeteria’s lunch is the best-kept secret in a city known for its secrets.

If you are dodging rain, snow or blazing sun watch for your moment, then, after lunch go back outside and take a stroll around the grounds of this museum. The landscape simulates native wetlands and depicts different types of lodging used historically by various tribes. In 2020 a new plaza was added to commemorate Native American Veterans who have served in every conflict since the American Revolution. Four stainless steel lances were installed near benches around the central sculpture where visitors can tie cloths for prayers and healing.

You could begin your museum viewing experience on the 5th floor and walk down or on the 1st floor and walk-up. The natural flow of the various chambers – with no sharp corners – showcase different tribal displays where all exhibitions are presented from a Native point of view. After visiting this museum devoted to peoples who lived for thousands of years among trees, rocks and rivers, you too may reach a new point of view!

The National Museum of the American Indian includes three facilities, two are museums: the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall opened in 2004 plus the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City located in the Alexander Hamilton Custom House. The Heye Collection opened in 1922 and became part of the Smithsonian Institution in 1990. The original Heye Collection represents 85% of the holdings of the National Museum of the American Indian. There is also a Cultural Resources Center, a research and collections facility located in Suitland, Maryland.

memorial map