Scholar Comments on Irony, Importance of New Native American Museum

September 26, 2004

Source: The Boston Globe

On September 26, 2004 The Boston Globe published "On Native Grounds," an opinion piece. Philip Jenkins, a professor at Penn State University, wrote that by "occupying the last open space on Washington's Mall, the new National Museum of the American Indian suggests a powerful irony of American history: The people who were first on the ground are the last to be commemorated. But the new museum also carries other messages about how Americans, past and present, view that history... Architecturally, its curving sandstone walls, said to recall the famous cliff-dwellings of the Southwest, stand out radically from the would-be classical styles of Washington's other public buildings. In more senses than one, this is not a white building. Nor is this even a museum in the traditional sense of an exhibit of things. Its designers, all of Native heritage themselves, wanted a living place, advertising living cultures, and even a site in which religious rituals can be carried out (and on federal property!)... Indians spent too long being treated - sometimes literally - as museum objects. It's understandable that they would instead want to celebrate continuity and survival on their own terms."