NMAI brings culture to National Mall
WASHINGTON, D.C. ? The changing of the season is a key event in the life of aboriginal peoples throughout the world. The spring equinox marks the end of the long hard winter in North America and demonstrates the American Indians' spiritual relationship to the environment.
This momentous event was celebrated by the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) at the historic Smithsonian Castle on the National Mall the evening of March 20.
"Tonight we celebrate the spring equinox in a Native way by presenting hemispheric Native music, dance, art and an exhibition," said Rick West, director of the NMAI. "Each of these presentations is intended to provide you with an introduction to our coming national Mall Museum and the range of Native cultures from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego that millions of visitors will experience there."
This year's festival was the first in a series of four equinox events that West said will lead up to the opening of the NMAI in an honored place on the mall in Spring 2004. West reported that the raising of the necessary funds to construct the museum were well under way.
"We still have a $40?million goal to meet, but we are confident that the many friends of the National Museum of the American Indian will help complete this very exciting and meaningful project," said West.
The museum building itself will reflect Native values, say materials released by NMAI. The museum will be constructed of Kasota limestone and have a curved shape that mimics a naturally sculptured appearance. The intent of the design is to allow the museum to blend into the modern appearance of the Mall while presenting a Native habitat.
A set of south-facing prisms will capture the sun's rays and trace the path of the sun across a copper wall inside the museum.
The museum will also feature two performing-arts theatres, changing galleries, study collection areas and several 8,500-square-foot galleries. The inaugural exhibitions, "Our Universes," "Our Peoples" and "Our Lives" will feature collections of artifacts, photographs and other art works highlighting the indigenous way of life in the Americas.
The "Our Universes" exhibit will explore "Native worldviews and cosmologies," according to the museum literature. It is an effort to show how Native peoples relate to, order and comprehend their universes. The gallery will employ language, objects and stories of eight different nations to illustrate this point.
"Our Peoples" will present the histories of 12 tribal communities. Objects, photographs, archival resources and songs will highlight the exhibition. Materials from NMAI said contemporary issues would also be included.
"Our Lives" is similarly arranged. It will examine "the extraordinary diversity of contemporary Indian cultures and individual experiences."
The commitment to hemispheric representation was reflected in the Equinox celebration. There were presentations by the Hopi youth dance group Hopi Sinom, the Bolivian musical group Inkay, Seneca singer Sadie Buck, Hawaiian singer Nalani Olds and Native Roots, an American Indian reggae-blues band.
Ethnobotanist Donna Elizabeth House (Navajo/Oneida) was the featured speaker. House has served as a consultant for several tribal governments and has published several reports and studies for the Smithsonian Institute, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nature Conservancy, American Institute of Biological Services and the State of New Mexico.
Several Native objects from the NMAI collection of over 800,000 pieces were on display. These included a Lakota toy buffalo, circa 1890; a Huichol gourd bowl, circa 1930; a Hupa basketry cap, circa 1920; a Kahnawake Mohawk flower pot holder, circa 1930; a birchbark box, circa 1900; Tesque Pueblo basket dance dolls, circa 1950; a Yakama woman's beaded basketry hat; Tapirape calabash rattle, circa 1950; and "Reverie" an original sculpture by Allan Houser of the Chiracahua Apache, 1981.
More information on NMAI is available by contacting the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, 470 L'Enfant Plaza, SW, Suite 7102, Washington, DC 20560-0935, calling (202) 287-2523 or surfing the Internet at www.nmai.edu.