« National Potluck Event Offers Unique Fundraising Opportunity | Main | IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas »

September 25, 2009

Reflections on a living memorial


On warm afternoons and early evenings outside the National Museum of the American Indian, people gather. Some sit on the low walls built around the museum’s Welcome Plaza talking, while children play. Some read books. Others examine the boulders gathered from the four corners of the Western Hemisphere for this landscape.


Who are they? Travelers most likely, making what for many will be a once in a life time trip to the Smithsonian Institution’s museums. People of all backgrounds congregate, shaded by native shrubbery and tall trees. A fountain and a wetland cool the air.


Five years ago when the National Museum of the American Indian opened its building in Washington, D.C., most of the young plantings were too small to provide much shade. The marvel that sunny day was the Native peoples who came by planes, trains and even old pick up trucks to the opening. Some 80,000 joined in a procession on the National Mall that morning of Sept. 21, 2004.


Another anniversary comes to mind when speaking of people and the American Indian museum.


It is the 1989 Congressional act which established the museum. Public Law 101-185 states, “There is established, within the Smithsonian Institution, a living memorial to Native Americans and their traditions which shall be known as the ‘National Museum of the America Indian.’” 


In a city filled with memorials for fallen heroes and founding fathers, the idea of memorializing the living is startling. But if books and exhibitions once routinely treated living Indian nations as historic, maybe memorial is the right word. But a memorial turned on its head. Instead of a memorial for the past, a memorial for the living.


In five years since the museum on the mall opened, and 15 since the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City opened, Indian peoples are alive in this museum. They are alive in the steady stream of artists, performers, writers, curators, language keepers, cultural interpreters, thinkers, researchers, visitors and school children who enter the doors. They are alive in the arts and materials in the collection, whether the artists are contemporary or ancient. 


Hospitality, a value across indigenous cultures, is abundantly on display among visitors who start up conversations inside the grand Potomac Atrium or families who find rest outdoors as they sit side by side, listening to the wild birds which inhabit the landscape.    


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Reflections on a living memorial:


This is a place where I often go to reflect.

veryyy gooooooood

great information thank you

hmm good deal

This is a place where I often go to reflect.

Very interesting stuff!


Great! very interesting and informative. Please keep it up.

This is a place where I often go to reflect.

Keep up the good work!

The comments to this entry are closed.