I know that I have recommended visiting the Smithsonian institutions generally as one of those very touristy things that are worth their praise, but I want to take a moment to talk about one which I think is worthy of particular notice. In addition to all of the things listed above and DC’s iconic monuments and buildings, I want to talk about a very cool museum which is frankly one of my favorite places in DC. The National Museum of the American Indian is really one of the most interestingly curated museums that I have ever visited. Far from the days of stiff feathered costumes on lifeless mannequins, this museum really brings its subjects to life using an array of technologies and psychological approaches. There are indeed intricate costumes and handicrafts from a variety of native cultures, but there is also an overlap of multimedia tools that allow for sensory immersion into the world of the Native Americans.
From the moment that you approach the museum with its unconventional architecture and garden of indigenous plants, your perspective on the world changes. Upon entering the exhibits, you are confronted with the realities of the brutal history of conflict and dispossession but also with the vibrancy of the tribal cultures that are explored. One of my favorite parts of this museum is the section that delves into the psychology of various tribes. By walking through a radial series of exhibits, you journey through different regions of North America and learn how the various tribes adapted physically, intellectually, socially, and spiritually to their various climates and circumstances. The learning is about more than just looking at display cabinets, it is also about altering the way we think about what constitutes society. It is really something that is better when experienced than described, so all I can say is that you should go.
While there, be sure to visit Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe which is the museum’s restaurant on the ground floor. It was only by going there that I realized that “Native American” restaurants are extremely rare, which is a shame. This one is truly unique because it uses Pre-Columbian ingredients to make very modern and accessible foods. I had buffalo chili cheese fries, but don’t worry, there are plenty of vegetarian, vegan and child-friendly options. The restaurant manages to offer gourmet, adventurous cuisine representing many different regions of the Americas. Each regional serving station offers dishes of varying sizes, price points, and tastes so it is possible to try things from all of the different regions. Be sure to leave room for dessert and for the seasonal agua fresca. There really is something for everyone at this cool place.