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New York has a rich history and like the rest of the United States, a lot of this history started well before Europeans settled there – with the American Indians. New York City houses a great museum dedicated to that history: The National Museum of the American Indian.
How to get there: Take subway line 4 or 5 to Bowling Green or subway line 1 to South Ferry to reach the museum.
Where’s it located? One Bowling Green, downtown Manhattan close to the 9/11 Memorial.
Average Visit Time: Take about an hour and a half to visit a large chunk of the museum.
As part of the famous Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., the museum is a must-do not only for first time visitors to New York but also those who have been to the city more often. It is not only great because the museum is now owned by the biggest research complex in the world, but because it’s run by the American government, the entrance is absolutely free of charge.
The building itself is beautiful, housed in the U.S. Custom House, it looks like an ancient Greek temple with its huge columns and colossal front stairs. It’s worth taking a moment to admire the building as it too has a lot of history. Built on the remains of the “Fort Amsterdam”, this site was important for the Dutch as early as 1625 when it was built to protect the New Amsterdam harbor. Here the Dutch had contact with the Native Americans with whom they exchanged knowledge of trade routes and animal skins. It is thus only suitable that the National Museum of the American Indian is housed here. After four centuries you can learn about the history, culture and lives of Native Americans right where it happened.
At the moment the museum exhibits a show entitled “Infinity of Nations” that showcases a variety of Indian tribes. The exhibition is part of the collection of the well-off German immigrant George Gustav Heye (1874 – 1957), who founded the museum in 1916. Seeing as his private collection of Native American artefacts is one of the largest in the world, there are only a ‘few’ of them currently on display. The entrance to the exhibition is on the first floor at the end of the oval hall, but look up before you head in and you’ll see wonderful paintings of the former harbor.
The exhibition is easy to navigate as all the artefacts of clothes and utensils as well as a variety of artworks have been divided into sections corresponding to different habitats. If you start right in the middle of the exhibit you’ll be able to view objects from the Omaha tribe as well as the Apsáalake tribe. An eye catcher is a small wedding gown on prominent display. This gown once belonged to Inshata-Theumba who was a wealthy member of the Omaha tribe. It’s quite different from the Vera Wang gowns of today! Another fantastic artefact is the Apsáalake tribe warrior robe. These robes were given to men whenever they completed certain military tasks. It is one of the two robes that still exist today. Because the exhibition has been divided into different sections, you can really compare the different tribes and their styles.
Some tribes focused on woodwork whereas others were more into ceramics. The Seminole tribe in particular preferred the colour red and the Lakota tribe were blue and yellow fans. For the visitor, this can be an overwhelming amount of variety and sometimes a little hard to comprehend in its entirety. But for those who love the variety, head over to the modern Art section where works from young Indian artists are featured. If you want even more culture there are also musical and dance performances given. Kids are welcome to play in the tipi downstairs as well as listen to Indian stories. A great museum for the entire family and perfect for if you want to brush up on your Native American history.
Eric was born in Amsterdam (1980) but had fallen in love with New York at an early age. Between 2003 and 2008, he visited the city 11 times! In 2008, his dream to live in Manhattan became reality. In 2010 he started NewYork.nl which was an immediate success. Shortly after he opened NewYorkCity.fr (2011), NewYorkCity.ca (2012) and finally VisitNewYork.co.uk. Eric hopes to share his passion for New York with everybody.
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