I’m not sure we would have visited the National Museum of the American Indian, which sits next to the U.S. Botanical Garden on the mall, if numerous fellow bloggers hadn’t recommended the Mitsitam Café housed within it as the perfect place to dine with kids after our tour of the Capitol Building (I’ll be writing about our delicious meal tomorrow for Wanderfood Wednesday) I feel pretty certain that we would missed it altogether.
I’m not sure why I never thought of visiting it before; the building is certainly unique among those in the Smithsonian, constructed of a pale yellow Kasota stone in a sinuous shape that is meant to evoke what water does to rock over time.
One of our favorite spots in the museum was the Potomac Atrium, which is four stories high and celebrates a variety of native cultures in its shape, its openness, its natural light, and the prism in the top which creates rainbows on the walls and floor (much to Teddy’s excitement). The atrium currently houses an exhibit of four different canoes from various parts of the globe.
After our two-hour drive to Washington, D.C. in the morning and our tour of the Capitol, I knew that the boys wouldn’t last more than part of the afternoon, so we decided to head up to the fourth floor and work our way as far down as our interest level took us.
Our first stop was in the hallway overlooking the atrium where the Windows On exhibition showcases objects from the collection. On this floor the focus is on objects shaped like animals, and the boys loved looking up objects on the touch screen computers and then finding them in the case.
The main exhibit on this floor is called Our Universes and it looks at “indigenous cosmologies,” that is how different groups of native peoples view creation, the Earth, and all that is beyond us. Looking at eight different cultures stretching from Peru to Canada, the exhibit offers ceremonial objects, video interviews, and numerous written stories and examples; I probably spent close to an hour reading all the panels. While Matt and I explored the boys cuddled up on a bench in the main area of the exhibit and watched videos of creation myth stories told using vivid and beautifully drawn cartoons. Given how fascinating this exhibit was, I’d definitely like to return to see the parallel Our Peoples and Our Lives exhibits on the lower floors. A stop at either wasn’t in the cards on this particular afternoon, as the boys needed to get some fresh air.
But I like the fact that this is a museum you can dip in and out of and will plan to come back at a later date. I didn’t realize for instance that they have an exhibition about the native peoples of the Chesapeake region; since my children have studied the Nanticoke Indians in school, I know this would really interest them. The Lelawi Theatre has a multimedia presentation about contemporary native peoples around the world that sounds like it would be perfect for kids (it’s only 13 minutes long). And in September of 2011, there will be a hands-on activity area opening on the third floor where children can weave baskets, walk into a tipi, and listen to stories.
You’ll find the Museum of the American Indian on the south side of the National Mall at the intersection of Fourth Street and Independence Avenue. It’s an easy walk from the Smithsonian Metro stop or from L’Enfant Plaza or Federal Center. We strolled down there from the Capitol Building in about 15 minutes.