Friday, January 14, 2011

American Indians and American history, November 1st, 2010

After two days of rest we were back to our sightseeing mission.


On the agenda today were the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of American History. Ambitious, I know.

Gotta study that map so we know where we're going and what we'll see.


We had come the day after the Day of the Dead celebrations here at the museum but at least we got to see the display.


We learned that the Day(s) of the Dead is actually Nov. 1st and 2nd.  This ancient middle American celebration welcomed back and honored the spirits of the dead for an entire month in late summer.   The Spanish colonizers attempted to end this ritual, but when that failed they decided to integrate it with a Christian tradition; All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, on the first two days of November.  Just one example of the many ways in which Spanish and English colonizers tried to alter and eradicate these indigenous societies.  Of course, we'd be seeing a whole lot more of that today.

But before we got to that part of the story, we explored the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

We saw extensive displays of many tribes and nations.


Watched (many) animated Native fables and allegories.


This was by far the element that most caught the kids attention.  The displays were extensive yes, and they included some good dioramas and video recordings of people today talking about their heritage.  But for the most part, I found this museum not to be very kid friendly.  A real shame, since given our intense interest in all things native back in South Dakota a few months ago, I was really hoping this would pick us up where we left off.  For an adult who wants to wander for hours to learn about it all it's
a great place to be.  I wish I had the opportunity to really give it the attention it deserves, but with three kids constantly trying to push forward, it wasn't meant to be. 

Despite the relative lack of focus on our part, we did manage to connect to various elements, especially the ones that were familiar to us from South Dakota.  The concepts of east/west/north/south, and their deeper meanings, for example, seem to be practically universal to the indigenous populations of the Americas.  They put a slightly different twist on it, but the bottom line is very similar, at least as far as we could tell.

Another thing that we managed to focus in on a bit was the North American Indigenous Games!


We thought that was pretty cool.  The games, which began in 1990 and have been a huge hit ever since, include modern sports as well as the more traditional canoeing, archery and such.

Finally, we moved on to the tragedy of it all, or, "The Storm: Guns, Bibles, and Government", as one display put it.  There were entire nations in existence that have been extinguished from this earth.  Nobody knows their names or the languages they spoke anymore.  "Nine out of ten Native people perished in the first century of contact between the hemispheres.  One in ten survived." (From the 'All my Relations' display)

One in ten.  That's staggering.  Absolutely staggering.

To make matters worse, if that were possible, for most of the last century the government defined who was a Native.  The government!  Thankfully, in the 1970's the Supreme Court passed that responsibility on to the Native communities.  But, there's still a problem.  The Native community may now define and determine membership in said community, HOWEVER, the government still defines identity!  How?  By issuing Certificates of Degree of Indian Blood.

Really?!  The government is defining to what degree someone is Native or not?!  There is actually a number on their identity cards as to what percentage of Native blood they are!  Again, really?!?!? This all sounds very Hitleresque to me.....but it's true.

Wow.  Just.  Wow.

The whole question of Native identity is a charged topic, to say the least.  The fact of the matter is that it can be an extremely arduous process to establish one's Native affiliation for the purpose of federal recognition, especially if one doesn't reside on Native lands.  That's just not right.  Not right at all.

To sum up our experience here I'd like to quote from one of the exhibits:

"Defining who and what Native Americans are became an obsession that lasted for centuries.
Like everyone else in the world, the identity of individual Native people is shaped by many factors - including family, culture, and the larger world around us.

Unlike most people, we have also had identities imposed on us.  Outsiders have tried to define and label us ever since Contact five centuries ago.  Europeans generally believed indigenous peoples were inferior. That belief and its consequences survive in both explicit and subtle forms in the 21st century." Jolene Rickard, guest curator, and Gabrielle Tayac, NMAI 2004

Moving on to.......though at this point it does seem like quite the juxtaposition.....the National Museum of American History!

I can't tell you how great it is having all these amazing places so close to each other.

My expectation of the museum was so totally different from what it actually is, in a wonderful way.  I thought it was 'just' history, mainly revolutionary perhaps.  Nope!  It's so very much more!  It's all kinds of history, of the 'serious' kind and of the more playful kind, it's just wonderful!!

Case in point, the first thing we saw:


Yes, it's the real deal.  We'll see more of that kind of stuff later but for now, we focused on some science.....and creativity. Aren't they one of the same?!

The official name of this area is called....get ready......"Invention at Play"!  Really.  I kid you not.  It all boils down to play, creativity, inventions, and how to foster all three!  Just up our alley.

Let me quote, again:"...Invention at Play investigates the role of play....(the) "work of childhood" - in the creative impulses of both historic and contemporary inventors.....Through play, children gain important creative-thinking abilities, physical skills, and knowledge of tools and materials.  And although tools and materials change over time, the habits of mind fostered by play have persisted in the work of inventive adults throughout history...."

How can we get these fans to spin?


How can we make this work?


Can we see sound??


Thank you Mr. Alexander Graham Bell....

Two of my favorite quotes from this highly interactive exhibits were:

"I don't draw a line between play and work." - Newman Durby, Inventor

"I didn't have the notion of being an inventor as a kid - I was too busy inventing." - James McLurkin, Inventor

On our way to the science lab we ran into Julia and her kitchen!


Analyzer didn't know who she was, but she does now and she sure is fascinated!


We all got a huge kick out watching Julia's show, including the boys.  She was just so funny, whether she meant to or not :-).  The most intriguing part, in a morbid kind of way, was the whole roasted piglet.....What a sight!


There's no way on earth we could go through the entire museum in a single afternoon, so, we made our way back here two days later.  However, for the sake of continuity, I'll keep the description of the time we spent there in this entry.

I did say we were on our way to the science lab didn't I?  We spent a tremendous amount of time in there on both days.  Here, we were introduced to Snapkits, our new absolute favorite toy (which we now have in our possession), if you can call it a toy.



Electric circuits are 'the bomb'!  How many 5 year olds do you know who scream out in frustration "I'm NEVER gonna make a closed circuit!!"?  I don't think I knew what a closed circuit was until I met S, and even then it was only years later.  I don't even think I could explain it today!  All I know is that you have to have one for electricity to work.  Never really felt the need to understand more than that.  Nope, you guessed it, I am NOT the engineer in this family....

In addition to developing our engineering skills, we did some experimentation, of the scientific kind -


I have no recollection regarding what the heck they were doing, but they all enjoyed it and participated in each and every step.



And, of course, no day is complete without an extensive world politics discussion...


There was so much to see in this place that there's just no way I could capture it all on film.

There was laundry to be done in Ipswich (One of the early settlements of Massachusetts Bay Colony),


Presidential speeches to give,


Old old OLD musical instruments to admire,


First lady gowns to admire.  From new -


to old - that's Martha Washington's dress!


Popular culture icons to chuckle at,


I do hope most of you recognize these.....see ** at the end if you don't.  They didn't mean anything to the kids of course, but I sure got a kick out of them!

The kids did however get a kick out of this,


One of several items from the Lion King on Broadway!

There is also plenty of serious stuff in this museum of course.


This was a surprisingly extensive display focusing on Jewish immigration between 1820 and 1890.  Quite honestly I had no idea so many immigrated so early.  Among other things, it included information about Jews in the civil war. Fascinating.

The slave cabin really drew the kids in.


In addition to the display pictured here, there was another diorama depicting two very young slave girls talking to each other about their work, why they couldn't play, what the 'miss's' wanted, etc.  The poignancy was palpable.  It was here Inventor made yet another one of his quiet but insightful remarks: "Boy, a lot of people do horrible things to other people....." Ain't that the truth.

The Presidents gallery was a real draw for us.  Here we have some of Washington's belongings.


Lincoln has his very own gallery.  In it we got hung up on these items:

His hat, the real one.


His suit.  The real one.


The dress is of course Mary's.  Look at the difference in their sizes, practically comical!  In fact, Lincoln himself described them as "The long and the short of it"!  They apparently were opposites not only in the physical realm.  He was always the frontier man and she extremely formal, he was often withdrawn and she was explosive.  They were both very moody.  Even with these apparent conflicts, they were each wholly devoted to each other and their family.  Inseparable.

And finally, Lincoln's blood.  Yes, his real blood.


I bet you can guess what an impact this particular item had on the kids.  Inventor still mentions this anytime someone brings up Lincoln or his trip to DC.

I had no idea until our visit here that Lincoln's assassination was part of a much greater plot to assassinate many national leaders and send the North into major chaos.  A total of eight people were charged in this conspiracy.  John Wilkes Booth was just one of them.

Of course, there was a section in the museum about the American Revolution. We zipped through that one since we've done so much with it already.

There was money, the nuclear program, plastics, the modern kitchen of the 50's, first laboratories, industry, inventions, transportation (from old to new, cars to boats), farming, Car Talk (with the Magliozzi brothers), changing communities, the presidency, popular culture, modern warfare, and So. Much. More.

So many, that it's simply impossible to cover them all.  You'll just have to visit yourself!  :-)

**Those are Archie and Edith Bunker's chairs in case you're still trying to figure it out!


  1. what an education you are all getting! maybe i'll get there some day - i certainly still have a lot to learn.

  2. There are things known and things unknown; and in between are the Dors :)

    peace and joy on your many travels. it was great seeing you at the Dojang yesterday.