Explore History You Didn’t Learn in School at the National Museum of the American Indian

National Museum of the American Indian

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian is a must-see, relatively recent addition to the National Mall. The museum is devoted to documenting and sharing the cultures of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. It is the first national museum in the country dedicated exclusively to Native Americans. If you wish to immerse yourself in history our textbooks often missed, you have to go here!

The museum is one of the most striking on National Mall. Clad in a golden-colored limestone, the curvilinear building is reminiscent of natural rock formations shaped by wind and water over thousands of years. Before going in, be sure to take time to visit the National Native American Veterans Memorial. This memorial honors American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian veterans who have served during every American conflict. 

Inside, its four floors swirl to the side of an open atrium at the center that provides a stunning grandeur for the museum, matching the beauty of the building’s exterior.

National Museum of the American Indian Exhibits

Beautiful and thought-provoking exhibits detail the history and culture of the indigenous peoples of North and South America, with a primary focus on their history from the 1600s to the present. Once you enter the museum and stroll down the ramp to the atrium, take the elevators up to the fourth floor.

Artifact exhibits as well as modern interactive displays examine the history and culture of Native Americans. You’ll learn about the diverse tribes of North and South America, their origin stories and the traditions that makes each tribe unique.

Guswenta Two-Row Wampum Belt, Anthony Gonyea (Onondaga), New York
ceramic beads, leather, sinew, 2014,

I particularly appreciated the nuanced viewpoints on historic treaties from both the European and Native American perspectives. The exhibit presents detailed information about the treaties between the European colonists and the Native Americans. In the early days of the British colonization of the East Coast, the treaty agreements worked surprisingly well. But as the United States was established and with the rise of “Manifest Destiny,” relationships soured as the U.S. government repeatedly reneged on its commitments.

Other exhibits examine the United States’ love affair with the images and names of Native Americans despite its history of vilifying American Indians.

Know Before You Go

There is no dedicated parking for this museum, like most of the other museums along the National Mall. Closest metro stops are Federal Center SW or L’Enfant Plaza and next closest is the Smithsonian; all are an easy walk to the museum. Plan on spending at least 2 hours in the museum — there is so much to see. The Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe has five stations serving different regional foods: Northern Woodlands, South America, the Northwest Coast, Meso-America, and the Great Plains. We paired the museum with visits to the US Botanic Garden next door and the nearby Eisenhower Memorial.

Getting there: 4th St SW, Washington, DC 
Hours: Daily 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. except December 25.
Website: Museum

Left, Super Pueblo, 1968, acrylic on canvas, Fritz Scholder, Luiseno. Right, Psychic SPace, 1996, acrylic on canvas, Norval Morrisseau, Anishinaabe

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