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The National Museum of the American Indian

My visit to The National Museum of the American Indian was a revelation as I learned a lot about the American Indians history through the various exhibitions that I visited such as A song for the Horse Nation, Hide and Lenape shows the cultural artifacts of the native Indians. In the song for the Horse Nation, I saw the glass horse mask. It is a piece of art that tells the story of native American Indians and their relationship with the horses. The horse was a very important part of their lives as it became useful in times of peace as well as wartime. The hide exhibition was exciting to watch all kinds of hides on display. The skin is very important to the native people because it is used both symbolically and metaphorically. The skin can be used to pass messages about a people’s identity through various inscriptions. The skin is also used to conceal secrets and for the American Indians a reminder of their exploitation and discrimination in racial politics (Gangemi n.d). The Lenape are the native Indian Americans who settled in America before the coming of the Europeans.

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The museum is located in the neighborhood of Battery Park. The park is lovely with its flower gardens and waterfront that greet the people who visit. The park has monuments such as the Sphere eternal flame, a memorial for 9/11, John Eriksson statue among others.

The exhibitions in the museum stem from the historical events that the Americans Indians have gone through in their lives. The natives, it is alleged sold their land for an exchange of trinkets and beads worth $24 dollars. This made them to lose their right of land use and this led to conflicts between them and the settlers who now claimed ownership of the land (Loewen 2007, p. 386).

The Hide exhibition shows how the human skin can be used for various things such as expression of identity. The skin also conceals emotions. The skin is also used to show what people hide inside according to the way they treat people who have different skin colors. In the book The women of the house: how a colonial she-merchant built a mansion, a fortune, and a dynasty the native Indians started experiencing discrimination as early as the seventeenth century when Europeans and other people to their villages. The Europeans came and introduced pastry to the natives and the traders did business selling their products to them. It is interesting however, to note that when wheat supply was low the law enforcers at that time curtailed the natives from enjoying pastry (Zimmerman 2007, p. 40). This discrimination was done purely based on skin color. The various materials used in the hide exhibition explain the journey of American Indians since the colonists came and thus are a rich source of native history. Through these exhibitions, we are able to understand the modern American Indians’ identity. For instance, there is the scar project that has many canvases that showing different scars. These scars depict the things that individuals and the entire native society went through during their encounter with the Europeans.

The colonists also called the natives savages and often derided them because of their way of life. However when it was appropriate they formed relationships with the natives. This could be seen in their relationships with the native women who were fascinating and later the off springs that were brought forth from these relationships. The Hide exhibition shows various skin tones of American Indians that show the mixed racial heritage between the Europeans and the natives. The culture of the Lenapes was strong and its presence could still be felt in mid-seventeenth century. The various cultural tools of the Lenapes at The National Museum of the American Indian exhibitions are proof of the vitality of the natives’ culture even into the 21st century (Zimmerman 2007, p. 40).

A song for the Horse Nation gives a good description of the natives’ fascination with animals. One particular that stands out is the horse. The Indians had a special relationship with the animal because it helped them in conducting their business as well as during the wartimes. The natives bought the horses from the Dutch using beads and this animal changed the natives’ lives forever. They used horses to hunt and in trading activities. They traded in the areas of Lenapehoking, Delaware, New York and the Hudson Valley. After the settlers came to their territory conflicts arose and thus wars were inevitable. The natives exchanged skins for weapons to fight the Dutch because their relationships had gone sour. They used horses to go to battle however many of them were killed in the battle field because the settlers had an advantage in terms of weapons as well as numbers as docking ships continued to bring in new settlers. On the contrary, the American Indian population had declined due to diseases that they contracted when they encountered the visitors (Thornton 1990, p. 62).

My experience of the exhibitions was influenced by my prior knowledge about the history of the city. I had learnt that the American Indians were the earliest inhabitants of America and now understand how exactly they had become a minority. Through this experience, I have come to appreciate the role of American Indians in trade that was the foundation of this great city. They played a very important role in making the city what it is today and thus I feel they deserve more credit for it. Perhaps a more deserving monument can be erected in their honor in Battery Park.

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Reference List

  1. Gangemi, Liz. n.d. “Native Artists Explore Skin as a Subject at the Smithsonian.”
  2. Loewen, James. 2007. Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  3. Thornton, Russell. 1990. American Indian holocaust and survival: a population history since 1492. Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press
  4. Zimmerman, Jean. 2006. The women of the house: how a colonial she-merchant built a mansion, a fortune, and a dynasty. New York: Harcourt, Inc.

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