D.C. Indian museum opens

From the poplar forests of the north to the lowlands of the south, American Indian tribes across Wisconsin are applauding today the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

The museum, the highest-profile of its kind, occupies 4.25 acres of real estate on Washington's National Mall, the showplace of America's foremost cultural attractions such as the National Gallery of Art and the National Air and Space Museum.

The NMAI will draw material for its exhibits from the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, its parent museum, meaning it will have some 800,000 artifacts and 125,000 photographs at its disposal.

Many members of Wisconsin's American Indian community said they will be on hand to see the NMAI open. Among them is Jayci Malone of the Stockbridge-Munsee band of Mohican Indians from northern Shawano County. Malone will accompany the winners of the Miss Mohican pageant to Washington.

"I think it's good for them to go because it would make them feel proud to see that many Native Americans in one place," Malone said. "It's a huge stepping stone."

Many American Indian communities expressed their pleasure at the museum's opening.

"I think it's something that's long overdue," said Stuart J. Miller, public relations officer for the Ho-Chunk Nation in LaCrosse.

"I feel good because there have been a lot of requests for tribal involvement" in constructing the museum, said Mark Montano, vice chairman for the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. "That's a major step in itself. If they continue with that type of thought, that'd be great."

The NMAI was built primarily with a type of sandstone harvested from an area of Minnesota once important to American Indians and was designed and constructed partly by American Indian firms.

Paul Johnson, director of communications for the Forest County Potawatomi Tribe, said he hopes the museum will fill what his organization perceives as a gap in the nation's collective history.

"It's like nothing happened between Plymouth and the Revolutionary War," Johnson said. And though it is a tall order, Johnson said he thinks the museum is up to the task.

"I've heard nothing but positives about it," he said. "Finally, they (American Indians) are getting the attention and recognition they deserve."

The western Great Lakes region has a large American Indian population, according to John Boatman, senior lecturer of American Indian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Wisconsin is no exception.

"There were at least 12 different Native American nations in Wisconsin," Boatman said.

Diane Amour, coordinator for UWM's American Indian Student Services agreed.

"We have one of the bigger (American Indian) populations east of the Mississippi," Amour said.

But like many American Indian tribes across the nation, Wisconsin's have had difficulty retaining their cultural heritage.

What Amour calls "material traditions" such as hunting and some ceremonial practices have survived, she said, but other aspects of American Indian life, such as native languages, have all but died out.