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National Museum of the American Indian

One of the most important museums in the United States celebrated an anniversary in 2004. The National Museum of the American Indian, (NMAI) opened its first building 10 years ago. The NMAI will also open its third and final museum this year. It is part of the Smithsonian Museum system and has over 800,000 works of art that present American Indian culture to visitors.

The NMAI is just 10 years old, but its beginnings go back to the late 1800s. A young banker named George Gustav Heye (1874–1957) was visiting Arizona. While he was there, he bought an Apache deerskin shirt.

George Heye loved the shirt and bought other American Indian objects. His collection grew quickly. He cared so much about the collection that he quit his job as a banker and gave all his time to it.

The Heye Collection

By the end of his life, Heye had the largest private collection of American Indian objects in the world. These objects came from the United States, Canada, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. In 1989, George Gustav Heye's collection was sent to the Smithsonian Museum.

The Smithsonian uses three museums to bring its huge collection of American Indian art and crafts to the public. The NMAI's Heye Center is in New York City and the Cultural Resources Center is in Maryland. The final branch, the NMAI on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., had its grand opening on September 21, 2004.

Old and New

One of the best parts about visiting the NMAI museums is getting to meet American Indian artists, dancers, and musicians. The museum believes they are the voice of past and present cultures.

At the New York branch, one of the galleries focuses on modern art by American Indian artists. The NMAI features more traditional American Indian crafts, too. A recent exhibit was “The Language of Native American Baskets: From the Weaver's View.” It included both old and new baskets by American Indians.

The museum also presents dance and music performances, film festivals, and classes for children on American Indian culture. If you live near one of the three branches of the NMAI, you can see the collections and exhibits firsthand. Admission to the museums is free.

Looking for More?

If you can't make a trip to the museum, there are other ways to learn about American Indian customs and cultures. You could ask your librarian for help in finding books on the topic.

You can also find Web sites that offer information about American Indians. The NMAI has a good one:

National Museum of the American Indian

You can also find many others.

Finally, do not forget your local bookstore. Many bookstores have special sections for books about American Indian life and cultures. Whichever direction your research takes you, you will find many resources on American Indians.