prepares to welcome Native people to DC
Upwards of 20,000 indigenous people from North, Central and South American are expected to pour into the nation's capitol next month for the opening of the new National Museum of the American Indian.
Construction crews and NMAI staff are putting the finishing touches on the 250,000-square-foot building, located on the Mall in Washington, D.C. In the works for more than 10 years, the $214 million project will open to the public on September 21.
"We will be ready, we are getting it done," said Rick West, the museum's director.
Last Friday, West opened the doors of the NMAI to members of the Native American Journalists Association who were in town for the UNITY minority journalists convention. The preview gave the select group a first-hand look at a place that will present a diverse set of Native cultures to a worldwide audience.
"This museum has been a long time coming," said Patti Talahongva, president of NAJA.
Interest in the opening is extremely high, said West. Its opening was timed with the fall equinox in the northern hemisphere of the Americas and the spring equinox in the southern.
Already, 10,000 Native people have signed up to participate in the Native Nations Procession, a parade that will mark the opening of the museum. West said 5,000 more are expected to register for the event. Attendance could top 20,000.
"It will be the largest gathering of Native people in this city in history, period," West said.
The opening will be accompanied by a week-long First Americans Festival of art, music and culture. Between 200 and 300 performances are scheduled to take place on the Mall, which will be filled with other displays of Native life from September 19-26.
Some of the events include an open house at the NMAI's cultural resource center just outside Washington, several concerts featuring the likes of Indigenous, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Stay Nayea and and a gala reception at the museum the night of September 26.
Tribes and Indian organizations have lined up events to coincide with the museum's debut as well. The Lummi Nation of Washington will dedicate a totem pole to the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the Pentagon and the National Congress of American Indians and the American Indian Society will host a social dance. NCAI will also hold a rally on the steps of the U.S Capitol to draw attention to Native issues.
The procession will start at 10 a.m. at the Smithsonian Castle, not far from the museum site. It will last two hours, after which the museum will officially open to the public.
People wishing to visit the museum during the opening day must reserve timed entry tickets via Tickets.Com or by calling 1-866-400-6624. The passes are free, but the site charges a $1.75 fee.
An overview of the events taking place during the week can be found at http://www.ncai.org/main/pages/national_calendar/NCAI/nmai2004
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