Published March 27, 2017
From those in Washington, D.C., to those in the suburbs of Chicago and the tribal lands of central Florida, museums across the country tell fascinating stories about America’s native heritage.
Travelers will see fascinating artifacts, some more than 2,000 years old, at these prestigious museums. But the experiences aren’t all about history. Art, oral traditions and live demonstrations help these museum visits provide insight into the many cultures that continue to thrive in Native American communities across the country.
Here are five Native American museums where groups can enjoy unusual cultural experiences while learning more about our native history.
Mashantucket Pequot Museum
The Mashantucket Pequot Museum is on Pequot tribal lands in Mashantucket, Connecticut. Groups visiting the museum will take a journey through Pequot history, entering the museum through a simulated world of ice to learn Pequot, Algonquin and New England history. The dire wolf, an extinct species of the genus Canis, on display in the glacial area is a popular photo-op with many visitors.
One of the most impressive elements of the permanent exhibit is the 16th-century Pequot village, which re-creates various aspects of tribal life. The exhibit includes examples from everyday life, including men hunting, women gardening and children learning from elders. There is even a depiction of a wigwam being constructed.
“Without A Theme,” a special exhibit opening this spring, will feature works from Native American artists across various mediums and styles. This exhibit will highlight the diversity of their artistic strengths.
“We want to let native artists just be artists that happen to be Native American rather than always having to be a native artist producing ‘native art’ when there’s so much to offer,” said Cliff Sebastian, marketing and development representative for the museum.
The biggest event of the year is the annual Veterans Pow Wow held each November to honor all service members, both native and nonnative. Veterans get free admission to the event. There are also many special events coming up in 2018 to mark the 20th anniversary of the museum.
Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
Washington, D.C. and New York
The core of the Native American collection now under the care of the Smithsonian came from George Gustav High, who collected about 8,000 objects during his extensive travels.
“He made sure he had pieces that represented the native nations from across the hemisphere, from the sub-Arctic to Tierra del Fuego,” said Eileen Maxwell, supervisory public affairs specialist for the museum. The High collection pieces are now on display to the public at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and New York City.
Now on display at the D.C. museum through October 2018 is “Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and Native American Nations.” The exhibit features items used in treaty ceremonies between the federal government and different tribes across the United States, from ceremonial clothing to pipes that played an integral role in the formation of Indian treaties.
The “Nation to Nation” exhibit has been extremely popular since it opened to the public in D.C.
“We have a comment book at the end of the exhibit, and the comments section includes some of the best we’ve ever received on an exhibition,” said Maxwell.
On display in New York is “Infinity of Nations,” which includes “700 of the finest works from throughout the hemisphere, including some of the most iconic pieces from the collection,” Maxwell said.
Groups should also plan to eat at the Mitsitam Café, the Zagat-rated restaurant at the Washington museum. The cafe serves a seasonal menu of Native American dishes from the different regions of the continent.
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