This is Mary Tillotson.
And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program,
EXPLORATIONS. Today we tell about plans for the new Museum of
the American Indian. It will open in two-thousand-four near
the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
(Photo - Smithsonian)
¡°This museum is being given birth, not being planned
¡¦ The land where it will sit has a spirit ¡¦
This museum has to be connected not only to us, but to our children.¡±
These are the words of a Hopi Indian talking about the new National
Museum of the American Indian. The building is rising along
the National Mall in the center of Washington, D.C.
The museum is to be a gathering place for living cultures.
Its goal is to save, study and show the life, languages, history
and arts of the Native people of North, Central and South America.
The most important words in the museum¡¯s goal are
¡°living cultures.¡± Museums usually
are storehouses of objects from the past. Museum experts and
scientists are responsible for explaining and describing objects
in the museums.
This museum will show American Indian objects from the past,
and also from the present. The explanations about the meaning
and importance of the objects will be provided by Native people.
Members of these living cultures are playing an important part
in creating the new museum and deciding what will be shown to
the public and how it will be shown.
Richard West has been the director of the Museum of the American
Indian since nineteen-ninety. He is a member of the southern
Cheyenne tribe. Mister West says the museum will show the success
of Native people in keeping their way of life and overcoming
pressures against them. He says it ¡°will be a place
to show and tell the world who we are and to use our own voices
in the telling.¡±
Building the museum in the very heart of the nation¡¯s
capital represents a kind of cultural justice. It is considered
a sign of a long delayed cooperation between people whose ancestors
came to these shores and people who were already here.
The National Museum of the American Indian contains about eight-hundred-thousand
objects. They are from the collection of one man, American businessman
George Gustav Heye (HIGH). He spent the first fifty years of
the last century gathering American Indian objects to create
one of the largest collections in the world. The material he
collected from the far northern Arctic Circle to the southern
tip of South America has great artistic, historic and cultural
In nineteen-twenty-two, the Heye Foundation opened a private
museum in New York City to show the collection. However, the
museum had space to show the public only a small part of the
collection. The foundation did not have enough money to expand
the museum or to correctly care for the huge number of objects
being stored. After years of negotiations, agreement was reached
to make the Heye Foundation Museum of the American Indian part
of the Smithsonian Institution. Congress passed legislation
approving the move in Nineteen-Eighty-Nine.
In nineteen-ninety-four, the George Gustav Heye Center of the
National Museum of the American Indian opened in the old Custom
House in New York City. It is one of the most visited museums
in New York. It will continue to offer major exhibits and public
Thomas Sweeney is the head of public relations for the National
Museum of the American Indian. He says tribal representatives
from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America
were asked for their ideas about the new building. Their suggestions
were recorded in a guide called ¡°The Way of the People.¡±
They said the building needed roundness, light and open space,
natural materials, water and plants.
The finished design includes all this. The building will cover
only about twenty-five percent of the two hectares of land that
surrounds it. It will fit into the setting on the Mall, yet
show traditional American Indian values. The outside wall is
made of different size blocks of gray limestone. It looks like
waves of stone. The wall seems to flow as if formed by wind
and water. Glass window areas extend the length of the stone
wall to provide light and a connection between inside and out.
The main entrance to the building faces east, like the doorway
in a traditional American Indian home. The building will be
surrounded by trees like those from a local hardwood forest
and a grassy area called a meadow. Native American crops ? beans,
corn and squash ? will be grown.
Water will be very much a part of the building¡¯s
surroundings. It will flow over and around some huge rocks and
continue down to a small, round lake area. The rocks are called
grandfather rocks. They show the respect of Native Americans
for ancient things that existed in the area long before people
Visitors to the museum will enter a large central circular
space. It has a rounded top more than thirty-three meters up
that is similar to the dome of the nearby Capitol building.
This area is called Potomac, which in the native local language
means, ¡±place where the goods are brought in.¡±
Live demonstrations like canoe building, story telling, music,
and dance will take place here. The public will be able to experience
the living traditions and skills of Native people.
The exhibition areas are called Our Universes, Our Peoples
and Our Lives. Our Universes explores Native peoples¡¯
theories about the world around them and their spiritual worlds.
It will contain objects and stories to educate visitors about
the values and beliefs of eight different native cultures.
In Our Peoples, twelve different Native communities will present
their tribal histories. They will choose the objects, pictures,
songs and other materials from the museum¡¯s collections
to tell about their past and their present.
Our Lives will examine the differences among Native cultures.
It will look at relationships in the family and community.
The new Museum of the American Indian will have two theaters.
In the performing arts theater, three-hundred people will be
able to watch Native dance theater and other performances. The
other theater will show a film explaining the museum.
Hungry visitors will be able buy food at the Mitsitam (MIT-zi-tom)
Cafe, whose name in the local Indian language means, ¡°Let¡¯s
eat.¡± Handmade Native arts and crafts, books and
games will be sold in the museum¡¯s gift shop.
Another important part of the National Museum of the American
Indian is the Cultural Resources Center. It opened in nineteen-ninety-eight
in Suitland, Maryland, near Washington, D.C.
The Heye collection is being moved from the place where it
is stored in New York City to the new center. In preparation
for the five-year move, museum employees began to develop a
record of the condition and description of everything in the
The Cultural Resources Center is designed to honor the wishes
of Native people about how they want the objects cared for and
protected. Native and non-Native people can do research there.
And training will be given to people who work in tribal museums.
The resources building itself shows a Native desire to connect
architecture to the environment. The roofline and the walls
suggest forms commonly found in nature such as a spider web,
a butterfly wing and a shell.
Thomas Sweeney says the resources center helps both tribal
communities and museum employees. Tribal members visit the center
to share their stories about the meaning and use of tribal objects.
These stories educate non-Natives, sometimes correcting theories
developed years ago by collectors and non-tribal people.
One of the most important parts of the new National Museum
of the American Indian is called the Fourth Museum. This is
not a physical structure. It is the Community Services office,
a link between the museum and Native communities throughout
North and South America.
Native people have been employed to work with individuals,
communities and organizations to develop museum programs. They
are creating travelling exhibits, educational materials and
an Internet Web site. The address is www.americanindian.si.edu.
The National Museum of the American Indian will use these to
inform people around the world about the living native cultures
of the Americas.
This Special English program was written by Marilyn Christiano
and produced by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.
And this is Mary Tillotson. Join us again next week for another
EXPLORATIONS program on the Voice of America.
This V-O-A Explorations Report is published
courtesy of VOAnews.com