The greater Washington, D.C., community received its official introduction to
the National Museum of the American Indian on Monday night with a gala
reception that marked the end of the opening festivities.
Retiring Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado) summed up last week's
events with a stirring speech that recounted the struggles Native people
face today. Diabetes, unemployment, suicide and alcoholism affect Native
Americans at extremely high rates, he said.
"In some Lakota communities in South Dakota, one out of every four
babies is born with some degree of fetal alcohol syndrome," the
chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee said.
But Campbell, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Montana, noted that
Native cultures have endured despite years of oppression and negative
government policies. That continuing legacy was represented in the Native
Nations Procession that preceded the museum's opening last Tuesday, he told the
"For many of us, it was like being reborn," Campbell said of his participation
in the historic walk down the Mall.
All told, upwards of 20,000 Native people from the United States, Canada,
Mexico, Central America and South America traveled to the nation's capitol
to take part in the festivities. Dozens of tribes sent sizable delegations,
with the Cherokees of Oklahoma and North Carolina, the Poarch Creeks of
Alabama and the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribe of Oklahoma being among the
For six days, the Mall bustled with activity as musicians, dance groups,
storytellers and artisans presented their work to large audiences.
More than 300 performances took place on several stages.
Throughout the week, the museum remained crowded with visitors
eager to be among the first to view the three permanent exhibitions
and one changing art gallery. Reactions among Native Americans
ranged from overwhelmed to unimpressed, with some seeking more emphasis on the negative history
Campbell referenced in his speech.
With the opening out of the way, the museum's success or failure
depends largely on how the public sees the facility. An estimated
4 million people are expected to pass through the doors every year.
Alma Powell, wife of Secretary of State Colin Powell and the author of
children's books, said the museum is a place, ultimately, about education.
She was the honorary chair of last night's gala.
"Most of us in this generation grew up with very little understanding
of our Native Americans -- only what we saw in movies or tourist attractions,"
she said. "Now our children have the opportunity to know
so much more than we did about our first Americans."
The museum is open every day of the year except Christmas. Hours
of operation are 10am to 5pm daily. Timed passes are required for
entry and can be reserved online at
Some same-day passes are available each day at the museum.
National Museum of the American Indian - http://www.nmai.si.edu