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.

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