The Museum of the American Indian

Which respected founding father said of the Native Americans, “The end proposed should be their extermination or their removal.”


I have to make a disclaimer. I’m pretty interested in the history of this country as it pertains to both our “founding fathers” and those who were here before them – the true Americans of this country. To this day I insist I didn’t learn in school about Custer’s Last Stand, also known as the Battle of Little Bighorn or the Trail of Tears. I’ve tried to make up for this in my adulthood by reading a lot about how this country was formed and who was displaced for that to happen.

The Native Americans

What I didn’t truly process though, was the extent to which things occurred and how it came to be that Native Americans now live on protected reservations with their own governance – and how long this took. Many museums are about celebrating arts or culture, but make no mistake, there’s little to celebrate here. This is a curated collection of exhibits that show the American Indian influence in this country, and the sacrifices they made for hundreds of years as their country was invaded. Bringing the girls for this was necessary so they can understand how this country came to be, even if a good bit of it went over their heads.

The National Museum of the American Indian

When you approach the National Museum of the American Indian, the first thing you will notice is that the building is incredibly unique. The design is intended to mimic the curves and ripples of rock as created by centuries of water and wind. Once inside and through security, Real Estate Dad explained the atrium design and how it was intended to replicate some of the pieces of art they found.

A few exhibits were closed due to continuing Covid Restrictions, but we headed into the Americans Exhibit first. There are hundreds of examples of Native American culture and associations being part of television, advertisements and consumer goods.

Within the Americans Exhibit were some side exhibits about the Battle of Little Bighorn and the Trail of Tears. In 1830, the U.S. passed the “Indian Removal Act,” the forced relocation of over 16,000 Cherokee Indians. There was much debate about this leading up to the passage, mostly because many eyes were on the “new country” the U.S. had become, but it passed and became one of the blood stains on our culture.

While he didn’t live to see the Indian Removal Act passed, Thomas Jefferson is noted as the first person who suggested that the American Indians be moved west, and replaced with white settlers. And who signed it into law? Andrew Jackson. Well that’s no surprise.

The other big exhibit we visited was the Nation to Nation section, which explains all the treaties signed with the Native Americans over the centuries and then how they really transpired. Spoiler: The United States never followed what was agreed to if it didn’t suit their interests.

We did learn something important here, however. In Native culture, the women are the ones who selected the negotiators and ran things behind the scenes. After getting through all these treaties, you learn in the 1940’s the government attempted to terminate all treaty obligations, take away their ability to govern and take the land. They fought. Hard.

It took until the 1960’s for the public opinion to shift and show sympathy, and in 1970, another surprise, Richard Nixon was one of the advocates calling on the Government to reject the termination of the American Indian and allow them the rights of self-governance.

Several exhibits were closed since things are just coming back to life post-covid, but I feel we saw some pretty important stuff and by the end both girls were asking questions and said they enjoyed it. I think this is probably better for older kids though, probably teenagers.