American Indian Museum Prepares for Opening

Facility Houses Largest Collection of Native American Artifacts

W. Richard West

W. Richard West, who is of Southern Cheyenne ancestry, was named the museum's founding director in 1990. Katherine Fogden, NMAI hide caption

itoggle caption Katherine Fogden, NMAI
The National Museum of the American Indian

The National Museum of the American Indian occupies the last remaining site along the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Leonda Levchuk, NMAI hide caption

itoggle caption Leonda Levchuk, NMAI

The Smithsonian's newest museum is dedicated to one of the hemisphere's oldest subjects, the history and culture of Native Americans. NPR's Juan Williams tours the construction site of the National Museum of the American Indian, which opens in Washington, D.C., this fall, with its director, W. Richard West.

Indian tribes from throughout the hemisphere took part in designing the $200 million facility and setting the tone for its exhibits. The facility, 15 years in the making, will house the world's largest collection of Indian artifacts. The collection will include objects from the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, which opened in New York City in 1922.

West says initial permanent exhibitions will include: "Our Universes," featuring tribal cosmology and philosophy; "Our People," Indian history told from Native American viewpoints; and "Our Lives," exploring the continuing evolution of Native America.

"I want to be sure that when people leave this place, they have a clear understanding not just of the tragedies but that they have an appreciation of the broader sweep and the complete spectrum through time and space in this hemisphere of the first citizens of the Americas," West says.

The new museum — located on the National Mall next to the National Air and Space Museum — is set to open Sept. 21.

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