Friday, September 25, 2009
National Museum of the American Indian
While visiting the Dutch Village, I could not help but be struck by the irony of its location in front of the National Museum of the American Indian, and I couldn't let it pass without talking about it with Mikro. We are a tiny fraction Native American. My ancestors on my dad's side came over to New France and settled up near Quebec. Some married indigenous women, and eventually the family moved down to Saratoga Springs, NY and later, into NYC. Nobody bothered to recall the history of that branch of the family. I can't help but feel cheated out of knowing about that part of my family history.
Anyway, all that rambling to say, just presenting the Eurocentric version of events in connection with the Quadricentennial of Hudson's voyage upriver (note that you won't catch me calling it the discovery of the river, because people lived along it for thousands of years before the European contingent arrived) seems absolutely wrong to me, and since I am the teacher, I get to do it differently. So, we had a long conversation over lunch on the museum steps about the other side of the story, and then turned our attention to investigating the museum.
I have to say I was impressed and we will be making more visits there. They are focused on education, and have so many hands on exhibits for kids. They do a great job presenting how modern native americans straddle two worlds. And the current exhibit, Identity by Design, on dressmaking, is gorgeous and fascinating. They have a related activity room, where kids can find lots to do, including trying beading with beads the size of apples and heavy wire, learning several traditional stitches. All museums should be this user friendly.
Very odd (though extremely beautiful), however, is the juxtaposition of the native american history with the museum's main rotunda, which celebrates european explorers and the maritime history of New York. You look, you are awed at the ornateness and elegance, and then you get a wave of cognitive dissonance over staring up at a hero's portrait of Christopher Columbus in a place dedicated to the history of indigenous North America.