I've watched short movies about different native Americans' communities in National Museum of the American Indian. Through stories of casual natives, I've learnt about the deliberate and often difficult choices of indigenous people made in order to survive economically. I realized how difficult it might be to save their languages from extinction, keep their traditional arts alive, and preserve their cultural integrity.
I've also learned something about native Americans food and cuisine which orifginally contained various crops and in some areas (the Plains) meat and (along rivers and coast) fish. There is no one American Indians' culture and there is no one American Indians' cuisine.
Well, I have to say that during my two long trips across the USA (Western part + the South) I didn't find (yet?) any typical dish for Native American cuisine in local restaurants which sometimes advertised themselves as Indian (or American Indian) ones. Southwestern cuisine (Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado) is heavily influenced by Mexican cuisine with Chili con carne and fajitas, chili pepper, tabasco sauce. It is also associated with the concept of the barbecue (barbecue sauce and barbecued ribs).
It should comprise a fusion of recipes for things that might have been eaten by cowboys, Native Americans, and Mexicans throughout the post-Columbian era. Well, as for now, Mexican influences win, as I notices.
I was very surprised to see known to me name Campo in National Museum of the American Indian. In April 2003, driving I-8 from San Diego to Yuma, Arizona across southern California I, by coincidence, stopped in Golden Acorn Casino just in Campo that was nowhere... in the middle of empty, deserted area.
It was my first ever visited casino in the USA and I was at first very surprised to see it at such location. I surely asked my waitress in the casino bar and she explained me that gambling was banned on the territory of the state of California but Campo was an Indian territory ruled by Kumeyaay Indians government. Soon later I saw many casinos located in Indian Territories, never in large cities except in Nevada. In the museum the Golden Acorn Casino built in Camp in 2001 is shown as a mainstay of natives' economy and symbol of their economic independence.
In National Museum of the American Indian I've seen the bold eagle feather which traveled into space on board of the space shuttle Endeavour together with the first Native American astronaut John Bennett Herrington - a registered Chickasaw, born 1958 in Oklahoma. He resides in Spicewood, Texas now. He flew from NASA's Kennedy Space Center with six other astronauts to the International Space Station in 2002.
I've also seen beautiful and unique works of art made by Native Indians including pottery and (open my next pictures):
- Painted Mesa Bear Belt Buckle (1989; sterling silver with copper and German silver)
- Painted Mesa Belt Buckle (1980'; sterling silver, copper, brass and German silver
I've seen a lot of stone figures made by American Indians in the National Museum of the American Indian. I saw them in various gift shops as well as sold ny American Indians in the West, especially in northern New Mexico and Arizona.
But my first meeting with Indian culture in the USA refers to... gambling and casinos. Surprisingly I didn't see any casino during my first days in the USA, in San Diego agglomeration. As soon as I hit my car eastwards towards Yuma in Arizona, I found large Golden Acorn Casino located in Campo, California. To my surprise the casino was located nowhere, I mean in the middle of empty, deserted area. I surely asked about it my waitress in casino bar and she explained me that casinos in California are located in Indian Territories as they are banned on state grounds. I couldn't understand it at first.
Now, I know that American Indian minorities (563 tribes) have some special federal rights: the right to form their own government; to enforce laws, both civil and criminal; to tax; to establish membership; to license and regulate activities; to zone; and to exclude persons from tribal territories. Limitations on tribal powers of self-government include the same limitations applicable to states; for example, neither tribes nor states have the power to make war, engage in foreign relations, or coin money. For me, as a foreign visitor, the best seen consequence of these rights, were just those nmerous casinos always put up on Indian grounds (exception: Nevada).
I've seen leather clothes and some hunting trophies in National Museum of the American Indian. Well, the most known animal the Native Americans of the Great Plains hunted for was a buffalo (American bison). They provided food and leather although the Indians were sometimes wasteful, taking mainly the tongue and hump meat.
I've got to know that the bison herds didn't propagate wildly by the time when the Indian population was decimated by wave after wave of epidemic (from diseases of Europeans) after the 16th century. The seas of bison herds that stretched to the horizon were a symptom of an ecology out of balance, in decades of heavier than average rainfall.
Bison were hunted almost to extinction in the 19th century and were reduced to a few hundred individuals by the mid-1880s, from which all the present day's managed herds are descended. The Indians did not participate in commercial hunting of the bison.
I liked some American Indian leather clothes displayed in National Museum of the American Indian. I've got to know that originally, there were very many different traditional clothing styles the Americas. Nearly every Native American tribe had its own distinctive style of dress which reflected both tradition, animals/plants available and local climate. The people could often tell each other's tribal identities by looking at their clothes, ornamentation, and headdresses.
Most Indian men did not wear shirts. But Plains Indian warriors used special buckskin war shirts decorated with ermine tails, hair, and intricate quillwork and beadwork. See my next pictures.
In National Museum of the American Indian I've seen beautiful examples of American Indian handicraft including their embroidery. I liked the pattern of some their wood and leather vests (see my next pictures).
Do not not expect to see any Native Americans wearing traditional clothes in daily life nowadays. First of all indigenous and part-indigenous population is only 1.5% of the total US population. Second, I've seen them living like casual Americans in the West. Well, some of them worn traditional costumes or showed off dancing for visitors. The countries most populated with indigenous people are Bolivia, Guatemala, Peru and Mexico.
Well, during my trip to the Western part of the USA in 2003 (especially New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona) I realised that American Indian culture is not only very old but rich as well. My visit to the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC finally confirmed it.
Well, the American Indians didn't built as many impressive buildings as peoples of ancient Asian or European culture but the construction is a small, although the best seen after centuries, part of past cultures. Although look at buildings of Maya and later Aztec peoples and impressive (not that much known) dwellings in the rocks of Native Americans in New Mexico for example. I was impressed both there and in the Washington's museum.
In the Our Universes exhibition I've got to know that for some American Indians (Anishinaabe) a beaver, master of water and wood, is a symbol of wisdom while in my European culture it's an owl. Courage in some Indian cultures was symbolized by a bear, in Europe mostly by a human being wearing an armour with a sword in hand. A buffalo was a symbol of respect, an eagle of love.
Let me quote Conrad Spence (Anishinaabe Indian):
"Another thing elders tell us:
in order to love somebody,
you have to love yourself first."
Haha, do you agree?
We started our self-guided tour around the National Museum of the American Indian from "Our Universes" exhibition on the 4th floor. First I got to know that there are numerous phrases used to name native/indigenous peoples of American continent and I saw some beatiful pottery, embroidery, and other handicraft.
This continent divides into Southern + Middle America (including Carribean Islands) called together Latin America where Spanish language dominates, excluding Portuguese Brazil, and Northern America where English dominates excluding part of Canada, so it's called sometimes Anglo-America. Americans Indians are called Native Americans also known as Indians, First Americans, Indigenous Peoples, Aboriginal Peoples, Aboriginal Americans, Amerindians, Amerinds, or Original Americans. Uff...
Well, to my additional confusion the English therm "American" may refer both to the whole continent and to the USA only as the only state in the continent which has America in the name. It works the same in my native Polish language and the exact meaning of "American" depends on the context. Do you want to be more confused? "Indian" means a person from the Republic of India or from the subcontinent of India (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh).
Enough, the American Indian means a native to American continent. To be exact the National Museum of the American Indian covers a bit more as it includes natives to Hawaii (Polinesian people).
We started our adventures in the National Museum of the American Indian from the 13-minute introductory movie titled "Who We Are?" The movie is played in the high-tech Lelawi Theatre on the fourth floor. Well, we had to wait maybe some 30 - 40 min. in a long line to watch the movie but... it's worth of it. The translation devices in Spanish, French, German and Japanese were available.
The theatre has somewhat Indian design. There are wooden cubes instead of chairs put around the four central identical screens, each made of Indian blanket. The movie or rather the presentation itself is beautiful. I was most impressed by Indian music and perfect sound system in the theatre. The unique sounds of some strange Indian instruments, I guess and nature (wind, rain) mixed together with movie (Indian dance) watched both on the domed roof and four central screens make the unbelievable image. And... spectators start to think over "who we are?"
"Lelawi" is a Lenape Indian (Delaware) word meaning "in the middle." Just in case you would like to enrich your property with similar theatre it cost $1.2 mln.
Located in the same vicinity as the other Smithsonian Museums, a short walk from the Air and Space Museum, is this museum dedicated to the American Indians. It's a very beautifully architectured building.
The inside has a deep spiritual feel to it that matches the theme of the museum nicely. The cafeteria offers excellent native american dishes that are very delicious.
Unfortunately, I only had 45 minutes to explore this museum, of which, I spent 30 minutes in the cafeteria. Still there's an excellent shop on the second floor and it's well worth visiting.
It's very peaceful inside.