Friday, October 19, 2012

Celebrate American Indian Heritage Month at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian ! Oct. 20-21

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian is celebrating the Latin American holiday Días de los Muertos (Days of the Dead) with a free two-day family event Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 20–21, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day at the museum. The event will feature hands-on activities for adults and children, take-home crafts, demonstrations and performances that reflect traditions associated with this holiday.

Días de los Muertos celebrates the cycle of life and death, which has been observed in Meso-America since before the arrival of the Spanish. Associated primarily with Mexico, Días de los Muertos is now a tradition for many other peoples in South America, as well as some Native American and several Mexican-American communities in the United States. It is believed that during Días de los Muertos the souls of the dead return to visit the living and this is cause for celebration.

Common holiday festivities include setting up ofrendas—an altar used to display portraits, foods, special possessions and memories of a loved one. Throughout the weekend, visitors can visit and observe four ofrendas on display: the museum’s community ofrenda, a contemporary art ofrenda, a traditional Oaxacan ofrenda and a Bolivian ofrenda. In addition, there will be hands-on activities in the imagiNATIONS Activity Center for customary Day of the Dead crafts, such as papel picado (paper cut-outs) and plaster skull demonstrations from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Potomac Atrium. Family crafts consist of decorating plaster skulls and making papel picado and paper marigolds from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. in the imagiNATIONS Activity Center.

Visitors can learn the history and art of making paper-mache calavera or skull sculptures with artist Roberta LoPiccolo (Mexica) and then go to the imagiNATIONS Activity Center to make their own from 1 to 4:30 p.m. There will also be a presentation of the Oaxacan ofrenda by artist Lucina Flores (Mexica), who will discuss her creation and the cultural importance of ofrendas in the Oaxaca region of Mexico from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. and again from 1 to 4:30 p.m. in the Potomac Atrium. A special contemporary ofrenda presentation and papel picado demonstration led by artist Tlisza Jaurique (Mexica/Yaqui/Basque/Xicana) will take place from 10:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. again from 2 to 4:30 p.m. in the Potomac Atrium.

Additional activities scheduled for both days include cooking demonstrations by the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe’s staff at 11:30 a.m. in the Akaloa outdoor fire pit, weather permitting, of Day of the Dead foods, including mole and tortillas, as well as performances of the Dance of the Jaguars (La Danza de los Tecuanes) by the dynamic dance group Los Tecuanes at 12 and 2:30 p.m. in the Potomac Atrium. Visitors are also invited to help paint a public Días de los Muertos mural with painter Marcus Zilliox (Mexica) from 10:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again from 2 to 4:30 p.m. in the Potomac Atrium. On exhibit will be a Días de los Muertos alfombras de aserrín, a traditional, colorful sawdust carpet created by Ubaldo Sanchez (Maya/Mam). Throughout the weekend, the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe will also offer a special Meso-American menu.

Related photos: 

Day of the Dead: Dancing

Photo: Katherine Fogden

Dancers from the group Los Tecuanes perform La Danza de los Tecuanis (Dance of the Jaguars) both days of the Day of the Dead festival, Oct. 30 and 31 at 1 and 3 p.m. in the Potomac Atrium.


Day of the Dead: sugar skulls

Credit: Katherine Fogden, Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian

Days of the Dead: ofrenda

Credit: Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian

Days of the Dead: Tlisza Jaurique

Credit: Katherine Fogden, Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian celebrates American Indian Heritage Month throughout November with a series of performances, lectures, exhibitions, family activities and tours at various museums. All programs are free unless otherwise indicated. For a full calendar of events, visit

Feature Event

The museum will present “Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports,” a series of panel discussions Thursday, Nov. 1, on the mythology and psychology of stereotypes in American sports. The symposium features commentators, scholars, authors and representatives from sports organizations, including the NCAA. Speakers will examine efforts to retire and revive “Native American” sports references and engage the public in a community conversation about the Washington, D.C., professional football team’s name and logo. The symposium will take place in the museum’s Rasmuson Theater from 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. This event will be available via live webcast at here. For more information, visit


From Thursday, Nov. 15, through Saturday, Nov. 17, the museum will host the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to celebrate the tribe’s history and heritage with a three-day festival. “Native Festival: Mvskoke Etvlwv” will feature daily performances, presentations and storytelling from members of the Muscogee Nation Honor Guard in honor of Veterans Day. The festival, which takes place from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in locations throughout the museum, will also include booths showcasing Muscogee arts and crafts, the Muscogee language, tribal cooking and Muscogee (Creek) Nation tribal programs and services. For more information on the Muscogee Nation, visit


World Champion Fancy Dancer Larry Yazzie and the Native Pride Dancers will perform traditional Buffalo, Eagle and Round Dances Friday, Nov. 9, at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. in the museum’s Potomac Atrium. The performances will feature authentic regalia, rhythmic drumming and traditional songs from the Northern Plains tribes.


The museum will screen the award-winning Native film Mesnak (2011, 96 min.) Friday, Nov. 2, as part of the museum’s ongoing Dinner and a Movie series. The film follows a young actor searching for his Native history and culture on the desolate reserve community of Kinogamish. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Yves Sioui Durand (Huron-Wendot) and producer Ian Boyd. Cuisine from the museum’s Mitsitam Cafe is available for purchase from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Seats in the Rasmuson Theater are limited, registration is available here.


Co-sponsored with the Richard Nixon Foundation and the National Archives, the museum presents “Nixon and the American Indian: The Movement to Self-Determination,” a symposium that explores how President Richard M. Nixon dramatically changed the federal government’s Native policy. David Ferriero, the archivist of the United States, will deliver opening remarks. Panelists include Kevin Gover, director of the National Museum of the American Indian; Reid Peyton Chambers, former U.S. Department of the Interior associate solicitor; Lee W. Huebner, Nixon White House department director of research and writing; Bobbie Kilberg, domestic council staff assistant; and Wallace Johnson, former assistant attorney general for Lands and Natural Resources. This symposium will be available via live webcast at here.

Family Activities

The museum will host Nancy Maryboy (Cherokee) and David Begay (Navajo) and their 16-foot-tall Skyscan dome for a unique exploration of the skies, Navajo-style. Visitors can learn about how Navajo constellations relate to hunting and planting cycles, ways of living in harmony with Mother Earth and Father Sky and how Navajo Coyote stories can speak to the origins of the universe. Updated museum locations and show times are available at here.

In celebration of Native American Heritage day, commemorative buttons will be given to all visitors Nov. 23 from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. throughout the museum.


Every Friday from 12 to 1 p.m., visitors can go behind the scenes of the exhibition “A Song for the Horse Nation” with museum conservators and mount makers to learn about object preparation and exhibition practices. These tours meet in the “A Song for the Horse Nation” gallery located on the museum’s third level.

The museum’s Interpreter’s Choice Tour takes place every Saturday at 3 p.m. Cultural Interpreters (Native docents) lead a 60-minute tour of their favorite museum highlights. Tours begin in the Potomac Atrium. The museum also offers a Highlights Tour daily at 1:30 p.m. The tour offers a general overview of the building and its landscape design, as well as the museum’s history and current exhibitions. Visitors meet in the Potomac Atrium. Hands-on activities in the museum’s imagiNATIONS Family Activity Center on the third level are offered every Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.


The National Museum of the American Indian’s presents “Arctic Journeys/Ancient Memories: The Sculpture of Abraham Anghik Ruben,” an exhibition featuring the art of the Inuvialuit artist that portrays exploration, migration and displacement through voyages across time and place, and into the spiritual realm. In these recent sculptures, Ruben contrasts the ancient lives of two northern peoples— Norse adventurers and Inuit (Inuvialuit) whale hunters—guiding us to a new perspective on the complex history of the North American Arctic, a history shaped by movement, contact and change. This exhibition is presented in conjunction with the 18th Inuit Studies Conference, Oct. 24–28, in Washington, D.C. “Arctic Journeys/Ancient Memories” runs through Jan. 2, 2013.

On view through Jan. 7, 2013, visitors can tour “A Song for the Horse Nation,” an exhibition that presents the epic story of the horse’s influence on American Indian tribes, beginning with the return of horses to the Western Hemisphere by Christopher Columbus to the present day. Through an array of 122 historic objects, artwork, photographs, songs and personal accounts, the exhibition traces how horses changed the lives of Native people: from the way they traveled, hunted and waged war to how they celebrated generosity, exhibited bravery and conducted ceremonies. It shows how horse trading among tribes was the conduit for the extensive spread of mustangs in the Plains and Plateau regions of the United States, as well as how horses became the inspiration for new artistic expressions and rich traditions that continue to this day. This critically acclaimed exhibition first opened at the museum’s George Gustav Heye Center in New York Nov. 14, 2009, and was on display until July 10, 2011. The Washington version doubles its exhibition space to 9,500 square feet and features 15 new objects, including a hand-painted, 19th-century Sioux tipi depicting battle and horse raiding scenes. Other highlights include a life-size horse-mannequin in spectacular, fully beaded regalia and Geronimo’s and Chief Joseph’s rifles.

For more information on exhibitions and public programs, visit the museum’s website at

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Eileen Maxwell
(202) 633-6615;

Leonda Levchuk
(202) 633-6613;

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