Fast Facts: National Museum of the American Indian

National Geographic News
Updated September 21, 2004
With a curvaceous form clad in rough-hewn limestone and embraced by a
riot of natural landscapes, the new National Museum of the American
Indian is a striking addition to the U.S. National Mall (see museum photos). Inside, it's no less
jaw-dropping, with nearly a million Native American artifacts.

This newest Smithsonian Institution showpiece is bound to become one of Washington, D.C.'s biggest attractions. So get a jump on the crowds with our at-a-glance guide to the building, the grounds, the exhibits—and what you need to know to plan a visit.


The museum is on a 4.25-acre (1.7-hectare) site east of the National Air and Space Museum and just south of the U.S. Capitol Building.

Light Show
South-facing liquid-filled crystal prisms catch the suns rays and reflect a rainbow-like light spectrum onto the interior of the entry hall, called the Potomac area. This light show changes every day and will be at its height from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The five-story building stories boasts 250,000 square feet (23,200 square meters) of floor space.

Food for Thought
With a fire-pit-equipped kitchen, the museum's Mitsitam Cafe serves Indian-inspired food, including quahog clam chowder, Peruvian mashed-potato cakes, smoked seafood, and bison chili. Fun fact: Mitsitam means "let's eat" in the Piscataway and Delware language.

The total construction cost is 199 million U.S. dollars (plus 20 million for exhibitions, public programs, and opening events)—half of which came from private donors.

The museum has an exterior cladding of Kasota dolomitic limestone from Minnesota. The pieces of Kasota stone vary in size and surface treatment, giving the building the appearance of a stratified stone mass that has been carved by wind and water.

Native Design
The museum's designers include architect Douglas Cardinal, a Blackfeet Indian; Johnpaul Jones, a Cherokee/Choctaw; Ramona Sakiestewa, a Hopi, and Donna House, a Navajo/Oneida. The architects included Lou Weller, a Caddo Indian, and the Native American Design Collaborative. Table Mountain Rancheria Enterprises—of the Table Mountain Rancheria American Indian tribe—assisted in construction. (See related news: "Museum Is Native by Design.")


Large Landscape
The Native Landscape, as the museum calls its grounds, occupies almost 74 percent of the museum site.

Meadow, Crops, Woods, and Wetlands
The Native Landscape includes four main habitats: forest, wetlands, meadow, and traditional croplands. The croplands are planted with medicinal plants as well as food crops that American Indians first domesticated, such as corn, beans, and squash.

Grandfather Rocks
More than 40 boulders surround the museum. Called grandfather rocks, they are seen as the elders of the museum landscape. Canadian Montagnais Indians blessed the rocks before they were shipped from Quebec Province. A Monacan Indian from Virginia blessed the boulders upon their arrival in Washington, D.C.

Seven hundred trees shade the museum site—including bald cypress, chinquapin, common papaw, and many other species.

Plants Aplenty
More than 33,000 individual plants of 150 species populate the grounds.

Animals On-Site
A duck family from the nearby Potomac River has already moved into the wetland area of the Native Landscape and is eating the wild rice planted there.


The Million Mark
Nearly a million tribal objects and artworks are housed in the National Museum of the American Indian. Many more are stored in a Maryland warehouse. The collection will be rotated on a regular basis.

Spanning Time and Space
The museum's objects are as old as 10,000 years and hail from more than a thousand indigenous cultures in the Americas, from the Arctic to the southern tip of South America.

Opening Exhibitions
Three main shows mark the museum's opening: "Our Universes," which focuses on Indian spiritual beliefs; "Our Peoples," which presents historical events as seen through native eyes; and "Our Lives," which explores the identities of Native Americans in the 21st century.

Hands-On Boatbuilding
Master Indian boatbuilders will construct full-size boats—from birch-bark canoes to reed boats to dugouts—in the museum's entry hall. Visitors are encouraged to join in at activity tables.

Artifacts "Alive"
Many objects in the museum are believed to be alive by the Indian groups who created them. As a result, the museum allows for some practices unheard-of in other institutions. For example, Native Americans are allowed to "feed" some rare masks cornmeal, to demonstrate to spirits that they are being cared for and kept alive.

Lending Program
The museum lends even delicate objects to Indians who require the artifacts for ceremonies. Already the staff has loaned a beaded dance collar to a group that was dedicating a new dance hall in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

No Bones About It
The museum has a strict policy on human remains, sacred objects, and any holdings acquired illegally. Any such objects will be returned to groups than can demonstrate a cultural affiliation or factual claim to them.


The museum is found at Fourth Street and Independence Avenue, S.W., in Washington, D.C. (on the National Mall between the Smithsonians National Air and Space Museum and the U.S. Capitol Building).

Regular Hours
10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily (closed December 25)

Opening-Week Hours
• Tuesday, September 21: 1 p.m. to midnight
• Wednesday, September 22: midnight to 5:30 p.m.
• Thursday, September 23: 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
• Friday, September 24: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
• Saturday, September 25: 9 a.m. to 5:50 p.m.
• Sunday, September 26: 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

+1 202 633 1000

How to Get Passes
Advance passes (small service fee): Order online at or by calling toll-free 866 400 6624 (U.S. and Canada only).
Same-day passes : Free, timed passes are available in limited number on a first-come, first-served basis. Same-day passes are distributed at the east entrance as soon as the museum opens.
Group passes : Groups of ten or more can arrange for an educational visit to the museum. Call the museum's educational department at +1 202 633 6644.

Source: National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution

Full Coverage of National Museum of the American Indian
New National Indian Museum Is Native by Design
At New National Indian Museum, Artifacts Are "Alive"
Photo Gallery: National Museum of the American Indian
20,000 American Indians to March at National Museum Opening
Photo Gallery: Exhibits at the Museum
16 Indian Innovations: From Popcorn to Parkas
Order Official Museum Book, Native Universe

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