SACRAMENTO, Calif. - If you are among the millions that cannot make it to
Washington, D.C. to visit the new Smithsonian National Museum of the
American Indian this year do not fret.
There are probably hundreds if not thousands of museums that are at least
in part dedicated to American Indian culture throughout the United States
and there is a good chance that you can find one in your own neck of the
woods. Though lacking in the national scope of the new National Museum,
most local museums and cultural sites are very impressive but with a focus
on a single tribe, region or even in some cases a single event.
Because of the sheer number of museums across the United States, it is
impossible to list them all and any attempt to focus on just a few is sure
to spark debate. Museums in Oklahoma and the Southwest were not included as
these regions contain a plethora of Indian related cultural sites that are
easily accessible by touring those areas.
If you find some time this fall to pack family, friends or both into the
car, here are some spots you may want to consider paying a visit.
NEW ECHOTA STATE HISTORIC SITE Calhoun, Ga.
This state park about an hour north of Atlanta now consists of several
rebuilt structures and spending an afternoon walking around here has the
feel of being in a ghost town. However from 1825 - 1838 New Echota was
anything but a ghost town. As the capital of the Cherokee Nation during
those years New Echota was a bustling center of culture and commerce that
outshone the then-embryonic settlement of Atlanta.
Although the only original structure on the site is the house of missionary
Samuel Worcester, other buildings have been reconstructed on their original
sites as close to original specifications as possible and hint at the high
level of culture and sophistication of 19th century Cherokee culture. Among
the rebuilt structures are the original offices of the Cherokee Phoenix,
the first significant American Indian newspaper. Other rebuilt structures
include the Cherokee Supreme Court Building and council house.
New Echota interpretive ranger Ashley Aultman said the park receives
approximately 15,000 visitors a year including many school groups from
Georgia and nearby Tennessee.
The grounds also house an impressive museum that features a moving
documentary about the removal of the Cherokees in the late 1830s that
became known as the Trail of Tears where New Echota was one of the points
of origin on that fateful march to Oklahoma. Notably absent from New Echota
are any remnants of the stockades that were erected there as holding pens
for the Cherokees in the summer prior to their removal.
New Echota was restored bit by bit beginning in the 1950s by local history
buffs and was eventually given to the state of Georgia.
For more information, visit: http://ngeorgia.com/parks/new.html or call
OCONOLUFTEE VILLAGE, CHEROKEE MUSEUM AND "UNTO THESE HILLS" Cherokee, N.C.
Though New Echota was the capital of the Cherokee Nation the current
Eastern Band of Cherokees have a small reservation in western North
Carolina that is adjacent to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They are
the descendants of Cherokees that managed to hide out in the Great Smoky
Mountains thus escaping removal.
By and by the Cherokees, at their own expense, managed to gain back a small
tract of land from their former nation that sits at the North Carolina
entrance to the National Park. The reservation is centered on the town of
Cherokee, which serves as a modern cultural center for the Eastern Band of
Cherokees and provides an interesting, if not always authentic, slice of
Cherokee life for the modern tourist.
However, for more authenticity, a few miles from Cherokee sits the
four-acre site of the Oconoluftee Village. Oconoluftee is a living history
museum that showcases several centuries' worth of Cherokee dwellings and
edifices. Re-creations range from the thatched-roof huts of the 1500s to
the 19th century log cabins borrowed from German immigrants to the area.
Oconoluftee is a fascinating hodgepodge of Cherokee structures. Also
included is an old council house and sweathouse.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about Oconoluftee is that you
come into contact with modern day Cherokees who do demonstrations of
traditional crafts. Dorine Reed, a Cherokee who works as a cashier, said
many of the crafts and buildings are created using traditional methods,
such as using fire to hollow out the trunks of yellow poplar trees to build
canoes. There are times when a few corners have to be cut with modern tools
in the interest of saving time.
Near the village is the Cherokee museum, which contains several Cherokee
artifacts including pipes, arrowheads, canoes and woodcarvings.
Visitors during the summer and early fall may want to consider seeing a
production of "Unto These Hills", which some have described as a Cherokee
Passion Play, in which the history of the Cherokee people is recreated on
stage in a spectacular pageant. Unfortunately, "Unto These Hills" has run
into some financial difficulties recently and it has not been decided
whether to continue the play.
Oconoluftee Village is open seasonally from May 15 - Oct. 25.
For more information on the village, museum or "Unto These Hills" visit:
www.oconalufteevillage.com or call (828) 497-2315 or (828) 497-2111 (off
SOUTHWEST INDIAN MUSEUM Los Angeles, Calif.
Perhaps one of the oldest museums dedicated to American Indians in
California, this museum sits in a scenic natural area near Pasadena and is
housed in a beautiful building that has contained the museum's collection
Started by a Los Angeles Times reporter named Charles Lummis around the
turn of the 20th century, this museum has gathered a very large stockpile
of American Indian artifacts from North, Central and South America. The
museum's stock is so massive that only 2 percent of it is ever on display.
Recently merged with the Autry Museum near Griffith Park, plans are under
way to open a revamped museum in January with more of the collections on
display as well as eventually opening a new building in Griffith Park.
For more information, visit www.southwestmuseum.org or call (323) 667-2000,
KULE LOKLO COAST MIWOK VILLAGE Point Reyes National Seashore, Calif.
When English explorer and pirate Sir Francis Drake landed in present day
Marin County in 1579 it is said that was when the Coast Miwok discovered
Europeans. What Drake and his crew might have encountered probably looked
similar to this reconstructed village near the headquarters of Point Reyes
Constructed using only traditional tools, Kule Loklo, which means "Bear
Valley" in one of the Coast Miwok languages, is of the same approximate
configuration of a Coast Miwok village from that time. Although not built
on the site of an actual village, Sylvia Thalman who is an advisor at Kule
Loklo reports that there were actual village sites within a few hundred
Though a little larger in area than a historical village, Kule Loklo
includes only a few Coast Miwok dwellings, a sweathouse and a main ceremony
house. Modern day Coast Miwok descendants have closed ceremonies at the
site, however Indian skills classes through the Miwok Archeological
Preserve of Marin (MAPOM) are held throughout the spring and fall.
For more information, visit: http://kuleloklo.com/. For more information on
MAPOM, visit: www.mapom.org/.
STATE INDIAN MUSEUM Sacramento, Calif.
Located in one of the outer buildings at Sutter's Fort State Historical
Park near downtown Sacramento, this museum celebrates the 150 or so
distinct Indian cultures of the Golden State. Included in this museum are
beadwork, clothing, basketry as well as other artifacts of California
Indians. There is information on the various types of dwellings and other
aspects of the culture of California tribes as well.
Perhaps one of the most moving exhibits is one dedicated to Ishi, who was
the last surviving member of a band of Yana Indians known as the Yahi. Ishi
was the last Indian to have lived a traditional lifestyle in the United
States until his surrender out of desperation and hunger in 1911, several
decades after the supposed annihilation of traditional culture in
For more information, visit: www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=486.
SUQUAMISH MUSEUM Suquamish, Wash.
Though fairly small, this museum, located in the tribal center building,
contains various artifacts of the Suquamish people and other Northwestern
tribes, particularly those of the Puget Sound area.
There are cedar canoes and basketry made from various trees and plants of
the Puget Sound region. There are exhibits celebrating the rich fishing
heritage of the Suquamish people as well as an homage to perhaps the most
famous Suquamish tribal member, Sealth, or as he is more widely known,
For more information, visit: www.suquamish.nsn.us/museum/.
PLAINS INDIAN MUSEUM Cody, Wyo.
Located in a sprawling seven-acre complex known as the Buffalo Bill
Historical Center, the 300,000-square-foot Plains Indian Museum is one of
the more popular Indian museums in the country. Mainly concentrating on the
storied Plains cultures of such tribes as the Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Shoshone
and Sioux this museum attracts more than a quarter-million visitors
"Yellowstone really drives the traffic through the museum," said museum
public relations spokesman Thom Huge.
The museum was renovated in 2000 and now contains a state of the art
audio-video display that gives back story on the museum's artifacts. The
museum is divided into several different areas that include areas on song
and dance, past and present housing for tribes including a 19th century
buffalo-skin tipi, and a section dedicated to the traditional food source
of the tribes, the buffalo.
Additionally, there are traditional clothing items such as a traditional
woman's dress adorned with elk teeth and moccasins from that same era.
There is also a considerable number of more modern works from contemporary
Plains Indian artists.
For more information, visit: www.bbhc.org/pim/index.cfm or call (307)
MASHANTUCKET PEQUOT MUSEUM Mashantucket, Conn.
Almost rivaling the National Museum of the American Indian in sheer size
(308,000 square feet), this tribal museum has come a long way from its
origins. Once located on the bottom floor as a seeming afterthought to the
Pequot's large casino, the museum was a disappointment to anyone with even
a rudimentary interest in the Indians of the Eastern Woodlands as it was
heavy on displays of artifacts from Indians of other regions and cultures.
In the late 1990s it changed as the tribe embraced its own past and
traditions. The Pequots moved its museum down the road into a massive
structure and now visitors can find a full-sized replica of a traditional
Pequot village. The technology is so state-of-the-art that a season and
time has been specifically rigged into the display for lighting and other
purposes. For posterity, it is always late August and 4 p.m. in the Pequot
A massive museum has to have a massive scope. Visitors to the Mashantucket
Pequot museum can view more than 20,000 years of history that spans the
glaciation of New England to the 1970s when the tribe was just hanging on
by a thread. Of special mention in the exhibits is a film documenting King
Phillip's War in which the Pequots saw their power broken by the English
colonial settlers in 1675.
Also on site is a research center that contains documents pertaining to the
Pequots and other eastern tribes. In addition to the various maps of the
time, one notable document is the first Bible printed in North America that
was translated by John Elliot into one of the Algonquin languages spoken by
For more information, visit www.pequotmuseum.org/ or call (800) 411-9671.