National Museum of the American Indian

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300 Maryland Avenue, Washington, DC, USA - (202) 633-1000

National Museum of the American Indian Washington Reviews

Andy99 Andy99
623 reviews
A curiously interpreted museum Jun 27, 2012
The National Museum of the American Indian became a striking new addition to the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall when it opened in 2004. The building itself is beautifully designed, evoking cliff dwellings and the diverse habitats of the Native American landscape. However, the museum is not an anthropological museum or museum of ethnology. Instead, tribes were invited to install their own depictions of their cultures. Thus, while the exhibit messages come to visitors directly from the Native Americans, there is no attempt to interpret them. Often, one is presented with an array of photos as the main component of an exhibit, with no key to their meaning to the tribe or the intended meaning to the viewer. A large mechanized snowmobile sits in the middle of one tribe's exhibit. We must infer that snow transportation and ice fishing is important to this people. Perhaps that is how the tribes want it. Perhaps they are tired of being studied by anthropologists and want visitors to make their own assessment. In any case, I found the temporary exhibits, like A Song for the Horse Nation, to be more informative than the permanent exhibits.

A large number of Native American objects from the Smithsonian's vast collection are displayed in wall cases. While beautiful and of obvious artistry, the displays are old-fashioned with just labels indicating the tribe and date. No attempt to interpret their meaning or relation to one another.

The museum is meant to include all aboriginal peoples of North and South America, not just the USA. Even the native Hawaiian people are included.

The Potomac Atrium inside the museum's entrance frequently has performances by Native American musicians or dancers.

I do recommend the museum's cafeteria, the Mitsitam Cafe. It is a bit more expensive than the average museum cafe, but it features regional Native American cuisine. (Please see separate review.)

There is no admission charge. Interior photography is permitted.
National Museum of the American In…
Drummer in the Potomac Atrium
Decorative horse blanket display i…
Newly carved Totem Pole
9 / 9 TravBuddies found this review helpful/trustworthy
Africancrab says:
I see this was featured Andy, congratulations (belated). Well done, we enjoyed the museum and the food.
Posted on: Jul 06, 2012
montecarlostar says:
Congrats on the feature, Andy!! Very interesting review! :D
Posted on: Jun 29, 2012
bernard69 says:
congrats Andy:)
Posted on: Jun 29, 2012
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Africancrab Africanc…
777 reviews
Architecture and Surrounding Reflective of Native American Landscapes Jun 27, 2012
The day we toured the Museum of the American Indian, was not a day for touring this particular museum to begin with. We had planned to see the outdoor attractions early to avoid the heat, then proceed to meet our friend Andrew. But seeing as we would be dinning inside the museum’s café, there was no excuse not to tour it. The National Museum of the American Indian is one of the many Smithsonian Museums; this one is dedicated to the American Indian as the name suggests. Added to the mall in 2004, it has a striking architecture with a water fall and river reflecting the different Native American landscapes. The Cliff-dwelling style architecture catches your attention as you approach it, the outside garden and huts are striking attraction in themselves.

The museum houses the most diverse and largest collection of Native American historical, cultural and art objects. Most of the exhibitions are done in collaboration with the natives. In fact they were asked to come in to help with the museum, giving first-hand information about what their culture is.

There was an entire exhibition of firearms, including modern automatic weapons, and Spanish swords and knives. This I thought represented the sad and extraordinarily dark history of wars between the Native Americans and nonnatives. The gun of Geronomo was on display together with two other prominent guns in the history of the rebellion against foreign invaders.

We loved the children’s section because it was interactive; our daughter was excited like she had found a candy store. Children get a passport book with information on the history and culture of the natives. They get a stamp at each of the stops, giving them the encouragement and incentive to learn more. We watched in awe as the children each moved from one stop to the other. It was a surprisingly respectful way to tell the history and culture of a respectful and private people. The past seems to mirror the future in most of the exhibitions here.

Now this is just my thought; the museum could do a better job presenting what is the Native American culture. Such a rich and deep culture, but the presentation leaves one wondering what they saw on the top floor vs what is on the second and first floor. With as much room and space as they have, I expected better presentation. The top floor is too dark due to deem lighting to a point of diminishing the importance of the artifacts on exhibit.

There is a café in the museum, the Misitam café where you can eat prior to or after touring (take a look at my review of the café). I must warn that is it a very expensive place to eat. The food is great though; representing four different cuisines. A large gift shop is also available to purchase souvenirs. Stop by to support them.

The beautiful architecture together with the excellent display/ exhibitions makes this museum a must see in Washington should you visit. We had a great time, even though we did not go through all the 3 floors. We saw plenty and had I not had an 11 year old playing the interactive, maybe I would have seen a little more, but all the more reason to return before we leave the East Coast for sweet home Arizona. Great museum, most people will enjoy it, especially families with children.

"Travel is an exciting and adventurous passion, it is quite expensive but the reward outweighs the expense. If you can afford it, do it!" Africancrab

PS: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain
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waterfordgirl waterfor…
24 reviews
Great Guided Experience Nov 13, 2012
This was the museum I wanted to visit most while in D.C. My visit did not disappoint. Prior to arriving at the museum I had no idea that the collection focused on Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas (South America and Canada included). Being able to see a range of cultures though the displays was really intriguing -- especially since the Canadian museums do a very poor job of addressing Canada's Indigenous heritage.

If you have the time I highly recommend taking one of the NMAI's interpretive tour. The tour guide I had was an Indigenous person from Peru and did an excellent job of speaking about the history and cultural context of the museum. He also spoke some of his native language and played a traditional instrument for us. This was such an added bonus to an already great experience -- I would go back in a heart beat.
HuBison HuBison
417 reviews
They coulda did a better job Jul 27, 2011
I concur with the other reviews. It's just an OK place and for it being the most recent addition to the National Mall, they should have done a better job. Some of the exhibit space is hard to navigate because people can't go in and out at the same time; you have to wait for people to exit the individual exhibit areas before you can enter. There is a lot of wasted space and space to linger and wander, but it's not thrilling or historically wonderful.

I have only been once and would be willing to go again. I do better in museums when I am by myself so I can go and come like I please and wander around at my own pace. When I went last time, I went with some folks and maybe ran through faster than I would have liked to. The main area is a large open space, but the food they serve is actually pretty good.

If you are aiming to spend a full day down on the Mall, just make this a pit stop, but don't aim to spend your whole day here...please! If you come across this museum and the line is too long, you might as well keep it moving or come back later or another day. For the most part, if you miss it, you're heart won't be broken.
moneal moneal
26 reviews
Must-see to appreciate the art Mar 08, 2011
This was one of the best smithsonian museum I visited with my parents. Everything seemed fantastic right from the art and crafts to the the layout of the museum.

Given the finesse of the art and architecture, the souvenirs in the museum shop were quite pricey but definitely worth it.

It is a must-see!

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