Thursday, December 29, 2005

American Indian

I finally visited the National Museum of the American Indian during one of my days off from work. It was one of the only Smithsonian Museums I hadn’t visited. I have to say I think they did a good job. The museum is informative, even if it tries to breeze past some of the major political issues American Indians face. It finds time to talk about the different societies’ belief structures, their history, and their place in the modern world. What becomes very clear is how delicate the balance is to retain the old customs and the important parts of their culture, while at the same time welcoming certain scientific advances.

What was missing though were important aspects of their life that are sometimes more controversial. For example, the exhibits talk about gaming casinos, and while they mention that controversy exists, the discussions were mostly positive from what I saw. Also, there was little talk about the significant poverty issues these communities face. I understand that it might be undesirable to talk about these problems in a museum – after all, it is much more fun to celebrate a culture than to recognize its problems. But if this were to be a complete educational experience, I think more of these issues should have been discussed.

Besides that one criticism, my experience was positive. The information was accessible and interesting and I came away knowing a lot more about American Indian culture than I did before going in. I am glad that the Smithsonian Institution is finding new ways “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men”.

As a final note, the food court there is excellent. It showcases Native American foods from different regions. This is one of the only examples I know of where the food is used as an extension of the exhibits in the museum.