My various adventures of a "Going Outside and Doing Things" nature, mostly in the great outdoors of Colorado. Hiking, playing with the dogs, rock hunting, abandoned houses, gardening... and probably more!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

July 4, 2012 - The Museum of the American Indian

The Fourth of July in Colorado was, from what I hear, kind of a bummer. It’d been so dry, there were so many very serious fires, the danger of more fires starting was so high, etc. that there were pretty much no fireworks. Almost all the usual professional shows were cancelled. But spending the Fourth of July in DC was awesome! (It’s kind of a big deal there, for some reason. :P )

We decided to spend most of the day in DC, and go to some of the museums along the mall. Our original plan was to hit the botanic gardens and the natural history museum.

The Smithsonian Castle is pretty much my favorite building ever, by the way.

It's just SO PRETTY, okay.

The plaque tells me that this is Joseph Henry.
But then along the way, heading towards the gardens we decided that maybe we could take a look inside the Museum of the American Indian. [I wanted to link to their site, but it appears a little broken at the moment.]

Okay. So. We did go here last time we were in the area, and Alex had been there before as well. And we were both severely underwhelmed. It’s very disappointing, in my opinion. There are many very interesting artifacts and displays, but very little easily-accessible information. For instance, one display had a booklet of information about the pieces, but the book was on a fixed stand almost around the corner from the display, so if you wanted to try and find one piece, you had to walk to a point where it was almost out of sight in order to read about what it was. Much of what they have displayed is meant to be aesthetically pleasing (and it often is) but then provides no context or information about the pieces individually. I believe the laudable message that they seem to be aiming for by placing everything together, regardless of whom/where/when it is from is the idea of “everyone as one people,” but it comes off more as homogenizing. Obviously, this has been a huge problem historically, that all tribes were treated as interchangeable, as identical, as if they had nothing unique or important about their individual histories, beliefs, traditions, etc. The museum, to me, seemed to reinforce that mightily. It was very disappointing, and we’d decided that we probably wouldn’t bother coming back when we were pressed for time.

But we decided to go in anyway. And it was totally worth it.

See, this year (I think through next January) they’re doing an exhibit all about horses, and what they mean to different tribes. And it was a really impressive exhibit, in terms of what they had, and the range they covered. It’s a shame that this is a temporary exhibit, because it’s my favorite thing I’ve seen there.

The poster for the exhibit. We would have bought one, if they weren't 30 freaking dollars.

Awesome tipi. *


Navajo horse origin myth.

Horse headpiece that looks like a bison head.

Another horse headpiece/mask. *

Beautifully decorated.

Most of this is done with porcupine quill.

Picture of a picture, but it was just a very awesome picture.




We did go through some of the rest of the museum, though not in as much detail.

Right side.


Left side.

This wall of different points is one of the examples of homogenizing that I saw… the points are displayed in a really interesting way, and it’s lovely to look at. But at a glance, there’s little information given about them. It’s just a pretty wall-hanging of “look at all the arrowheads!” (Lots of these are not arrowheads.) They do have some computers nearby that you can supposedly use to “interactively search” for more information, but both times I’ve been there, the computers weren’t working (or were so slow that I gave up after looking up one or two things.) So, a pretty display that has some amazing individual pieces, but it’s not a very good for a museum.

I somehow doubt this is historically accurate...

Bearclaw necklace. *

And another display with frustratingly little information… things seemed to be categorized by type of animal? So all the birds were together, and all the fish were together, and all the snakes… but still lacking any relevant context. Still had a few neat things, though:

Turquoise bobcat. *

Scorpion basket! I want one! *

The silver and turquoise bit with the horses is awesome,
but I also dig the crazy crab and the puffin. *

I wish a picture of this without flash would have come out, to show off the mother-of-pearl inlay.
In the eyes of these masks, it looks like reflective animal eyes. *

And that’s the end of what we saw in the museum. I’m breaking this day up into two parts, because otherwise it’ll be even more horribly image-heavy. So the rest of our time in DC will be in the next post.

* These pictures were taken with Alex's camera.


  1. What do you mean that that statue isn't historically accurate? Don't you know that all the indians and all the white people were the bestest of friends and thus this is why we have Thanksgiving? Gee whiz.

    1. Oh, my bad. I forgot that George Washington and the other white people and all the Indians were BFFs. Also Disney Princesses, and they summoned all the furry woodland creatures to accompany them! I for one am thankful that white people finally discovered this previously unknown land. My, our history is sparkly and magical and grand!

  2. Honestly, I think if that statue was historically accurate, it would have the bear and wolf trying to figure out how to eat ALL THE HUMANS because they probably knew humans would bring nothing but disease and trouble to their pristine wilderness. Bear: "Well, fuck. There goes the neighborhood. It was bad enough when we got all those groups hunting all the damned buffalo..." Wolf: "...and talking to us after they got stoned on all those weeds..." Bear: "Right. And now we've got MORE two-legged assholes coming here to shit in our rivers and hunt us for sport?" Wolf: "At least, you're a bear. I'm a wolf, and my kind are demonized as evil by all cultures. Fuck. That's it. I'm going to Canada."

    Seriously, your photos are awesome. I love the castle, too, and that statue has always made my family giggle. My paternal grandfather's name was Joseph Robert Henry, and my oldest brother is Joseph Lee Henry. Usually, it's my sister who throws out, "Yeah, he's got to be one of ours somehow." Though he isn't. We have no idea.

    1. Heh, yeah... Unfortunately Canada hasn't been much better. I don't know of anyplace hospitable for animal ex-pats.

      Lol, I knew you had a Joseph Henry in your family (I think I just knew about your brother.) Hmm... he has to be related somehow, right? :P

    2. Though wolves aren't universally demonized... Mongolians and Japanese and Ainu cultures all viewed them as good, and I know some Native cultures in North America did, too. But wolves have gotten a pretty shit deal, especially from the Abrahamic religions.

  3. I wouldn't be surprised if he was related. Be interesting to figure it out. I know that my family was descended from a cousin of Patrick Henry's.

    As far as wolves being demonized, no by most native cultures, they were pretty well revered as teachers and for their loyalty. Pre-Christian Celtic cultures didn't demonize them either. Actually pre-Christian cultures didn't demonize them. European/American Christians, however, have demonized the fuck out of wolves -- look at all the Grimm tales that involve wolves, Red Riding Hood, anything about werewolves generally demonizes them, the story of the 7 Kids who were eaten by a wolf, Dante demonized the she-wolf by making her the worst of the three animals that Dante encounters before entering Hell. It's as bad as modern (perhaps mostly Texan) hunters trashing coyotes as being riddled with rabies and eating all the livestock.