Native Village Youth and Education News

March 1, 2009 Issue 195 Volume 1


Going to Meet Its Public
Indian Museum Will Put Entire Collection Online
 Jacqueline Trescott
Condensed by Native Village

Washington, D.C.: The website for the National Museum of the American Indian will soon feature every item -- 800,000! --in it's collection.

While the NMAI has three separate locations, it barely has enough room to display  1% of it's objects.  To help close that gap, the museum will set up the "Fourth Museum:"  a digital showcase. The task is expected to take at least four years.

"Most Americans will never see the Smithsonian, and Native Americans aren't any different," said Kevin Gover, NMAI director. "This Web site has always been part of our long-term strategic plan. Quite simply, given we know most native people will never visit any of our three museums . . . we wanted to provide this experience."

Getting the entire Smithsonian collection online is also a goal of its new secretary, G. Wayne Clough. "This is a happy coincidence," Gover said. "We were relieved he thought it was a good idea." The museum has raised $750,000 for the project.

The NMAI's holdings center upon the George Gustav Heye collections, one of the largest collection of Indian materials in the world. Other museum items were acquired through Indian agencies workers, physicians, scientists, missionaries and others.

Researcher have also learned that visitors are curious about how the museum acquires things. "We hadn't thought of doing a history of how we got the items. We just had brief catalogue cards," said one researcher.

NMAI Web site's organizers want that two-way conversation to continue. They want viewers to ask for, or share, more information. Organizers have also made it clear that the museum will not photograph items consider sacred or private by their tribes.

The NMAI's current museums are located in Washington D.C., The Heye Center in New York City, and  the research center in Suitland, Maryland.


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