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A Celebration of Native Culture September 30, 2004
by Tim Rose

Images of the opening day procession for the National Museum of the American Indian

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Fabulous regalia, proud smiling faces, pageant princesses, handsome children, and American flags are my lasting memories of the day indigenous people of the western hemisphere gathered in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian on September 21.

Approximately 20,000 people came together on the clear, brisk morning to take part in the procession. The excited crowd was interspersed with spontaneous demonstrations of dance and chant. I worried that the Hawai'ians had goose bumps from the chill, but it was pleasantly sunny and bordering on hot by the time the procession began. The NMAI Associate Director for Cultural Services, Jim Pepper Henry in full Kaw regalia, parted the crowd for Senator Ben Nighthorse-Campbell and Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small at the front of the Native Nations Procession.

The bright morning sky was perfect illumination for the combinations of feathers, fabric, tiny beads, metal bangles, and hides that made up the traditional clothing worn by perhaps half of the participants. Many of those in full regalia gladly stepped out to have their pictures taken by everyday folks and professional photographers alike. Pretty, outgoing young women wearing beautiful outfits and pageant sashes smiled and waved profusely to the crowd. Others wore t-shirts and jeans. The use of cell phones was a glimpse of the modern. Of the greatest surprise to me was the preponderance of military veteran color guards and American flags introducing many tribes. Seeing the vets up front and the incorporation of the Stars and Stripes into tribal dress made apparent to me the patriotism that runs deep in these communities.

Regardless of dress and things modern, the striking features of the proud faces belied the kinship of these people who had gathered from far and wide to participate in the museum's opening ceremony.

Tim Rose is a geologist at the National Museum of Natural History.

* See "Letter From Washington, D.C.: Native Voices" for more on the museum.

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© 2004 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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