The National Museum of the American Indian houses one of the world’s largest and most diverse collections of its kind. The museum’s sweeping curvilinear architecture, its indigenous landscaping, and its exhibitions, all designed in collaboration with tribes and communities from across the hemisphere, combine to give visitors from around the world the sense and spirit of Native America.
Four hundred years ago, the Chesapeake Bay region abounded in forests, wetlands, meadows, and Algonquian peoples’ croplands. The National Museum of the American Indian restores these environments and is home to more than 27,000 trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants representing 145 species.
The museum is open 10 AM–5:30 PM daily; closed December 25. The imagiNATIONS Activity Center and Mitsitam Cafe & Espresso begin closing at 5 PM; exhibition spaces and the store begin closing at 5:15 PM.
(Note: Many places fill to capacity on busy, nice weather days, especially holiday weekends. Please call ahead or visit the official website to get the most up-to-date information before visiting.)
Admission is free.
By recalling the natural environment that existed prior to European contact, the museum’s landscape design embodies a theme that runs central to the National Museum of the American Indian—that of returning to a Native place.
The National Museum of the American Indian has one of the most extensive collections of Native American arts and artifacts in the world—approximately 266,000 catalog records (825,000 items) representing over 12,000 years of history and more than 1,200 indigenous cultures throughout the Americas.
In addition to the object collections, the museum’s holdings also include the Photographic Archive (approximately 324,000 images from the 1860s to the present); the Media Archive (approximately 12,000 items) including film and audiovisual collections such as wax cylinders, phonograph discs, 16mm and 35mm motion picture film, magnetic media of many varieties, and optical and digital media recorded from the late 1800s through the present; and the Paper Archive (approximately 1500 linear feet) comprised of records dating from the 1860s to the present that preserve the documentary history of the National Museum of the American Indian.
Beginning in the early 1990s, the National Museum of the American Indian opened dialogues with Native communities and individuals across the Western Hemisphere. These early meetings resulted in the museum's landmark document The Way of the People (1993), which reached beyond the basic requirements of the building to incorporate Native sensibilities throughout the museum building. A series of themes emerged from the dialogues. One involved the intuitive nature of the building: it needed to be a living museum, neither formal nor quiet, located in close proximity to nature. Another was that the building's design should make specific celestial references, such as an east-facing main entrance and a dome that opens to the sky. Many comments expressed the desire to bring Native stories forward through the representation and interpretation of Indian cultures as living phenomena throughout the hemisphere.