National Museum of the American Indian Opens Family Activity Center
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian invites visitors to experience its newly opened imagiNATIONS Activity Center, which offers bilingual learning tools and hands-on activities highlighting the diversity, history, culture and contributions of tribes across the Western Hemisphere. Located on the third level and open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the imagiNATIONS Center is a sunny, 5,400-square-foot space lined with a wall of windows offering a stunning view of the Capitol and the National Mall. It features interactive games, storytelling programs and craft workshops throughout the year.
Native peoples have long used the natural environments around them to meet their needs, and many of their innovations are part of daily life for millions of people around the world today. Visitors can learn about some of these ingenious adaptations through a variety of hands-on activities and:
- Explore traditional Native dwellings by wandering through an Amazonian stilt house, building an iglu, sitting inside a 16-foot-tall tipi or marveling at a life-size adobe house.
- Compete against family and friends in an interactive quiz show that tests one’s knowledge of Native history, culture and customs.
- Experience different modes of indigenous transportation and sport through kayaking, snowshoeing and skateboarding activities.
- Weave a giant basket and learn about basket-weaving’s history, uses and variety of styles.
- Appreciate the diversity and sovereignty of Indian Country through a passport program that uses official tribal seals from North, South and Central America.
- Meet the “Three Sisters” in the museum’s Chickahominy gardening exercise and learn why tribes plant crops together.
Tribal Passport Program
To further reinforce the diversity of Indian Country, a special passport program allows visitors to collect stamps from various tribal nations as they “travel” through the imagiNATIONS Center. After completing a wetlands exercise, for example, visitors can stamp their passports with the turtle seal of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe, while at the Amazonian Stilt House they can collect the “seal” of the Cocama community in Peru, which was actually drawn by one of the children in the village.
Interactive Quiz Show
At the entrance, visitors are greeted with an electronic quiz show whose flashy lights and three-contestant buzzers evoke the fun of 1950s-era game shows. “Contestants” can compete with their family and friends to answer questions like, “How many states are named after a tribe or use an American Indian word?” (Answer: 26) or “Which American Indian player currently pitches for the New York Yankees?” (Answer: Joba Chamberlain of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska). Categories include Geography, Statistics, American Indians 101, Pop Culture and Sports.
Working with communities like the Pueblo of Acoma and the Cocama of Peru, the museum created several large-scale dwellings that show how tribes in South America, the American Southwest, the Plains and the Arctic adapted to their very different environments by adopting very different ways of constructing homes. Children can explore the Amazonian Stilt House, which features photographs taken by the children of San Martin de Tipischa, a remote indigenous village in Peru, to get a glimpse into daily life in the jungle through the lenses of those who live there. Visitors can build their own iglu in an activity that explains how indigenous communities in the Arctic ingeniously used ice to stay warm, or they can play inside a Comanche tipi and learn about the many ways that buffalo were used by Plains tribes. An interactive wetlands mural features “listening tubes” that isolate the cacophony of bird song into clear examples of each, along with clues that help children match each song to the specific bird. A correct answer is rewarded with fascinating tidbits on each creature and its use among communities in the region.
Indigenous Music Room
Funded by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, the imagiNATIONS Center’s music room highlights Native contributions to music through hands-on play with drums, rattles and other percussive instruments representing the diversity of tribal music. Each instrument features a playback station that challenges children to match the rhythm and style of play. Several of these stations use actual footage of the instrument being used in its respective community.
As a youth sport with popular appeal, skateboarding offers a unique opportunity to educate children and families about Native American contributions to athletics. Inspired by the museum’s own exhibition, “Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America,” the imagiNATIONS Center illustrates the indigenous roots of skateboarding, which can be traced to the papa he‘e malu (surfboards) and papa hōlua (land sleds) of Native Hawaiians, through text panels and the interactive video game Tony Hawk: Shred, which allows visitors to experience skateboarding without a ramp.
Throughout the year, Native artisans will lead hands-on workshops in the craft room, where visitors can learn about traditional Native arts and crafts and make their own souvenirs. The story room offers space to read children’s books about Native American themes, beliefs and tribal origin stories, as well as “discovery boxes” that children can explore on their own. One such discovery box, called “1‐2‐3 Hide Dresses,” explores the intersection of hunting, clothing and culture among Plains tribes. Special storytelling programs featuring Native speakers will also be sponsored throughout the year.
For more information and program listings, visit www.AmericanIndian.si.edu.
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