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This striking building, located at the Capitol end of the National Mall, stands out for the architectural contrast it makes with neighboring Smithsonian and government structures. It is the first national museum in the country dedicated exclusively to Native Americans, and Native Americans consulted on its design, both inside and out; the main architect was a Blackfoot Indian. The museum’s rippled exterior is clad in golden sand-colored Kasota limestone; the building stands five stories high within a landscape of wetland grasses, water features, and 40 large uncarved rocks and boulders known as “grandfather rocks.”
Although the interior design is breathtaking (you enter a 120-ft.-high domed “Potomac,” or rotunda, whose central atrium shows off beautiful boats, each representing the handcrafted boatbuilding traditions of different native peoples), the experience of visiting here can be bewildering, thanks to the sheer number of artifacts (some 8,500) and the variety of tribes and tribal traditions portrayed. The best way to take it all in is by joining a Culture Connections highlights tour, usually scheduled daily at 1:30pm. But always check at the welcome desk to see if any other timed tours or events are available during your visit.
If you’re exploring on your own, begin with the 13-minute Who We Are orientation film that plays throughout the day on the fourth level. It offers a good introduction to the diversity of traditions and contemporary Native American life that the museum explores. You’ll add to that understanding of Native culture by visiting two other exhibits on the fourth floor: Our Universes, which focuses on Native cosmologies and the spiritual connection between man and nature; and Nation to Nation, which explores the history of treaty-making between the United States and American Indian nations, using 125 objects, such as wampum belts and peace medals, three videos, and four interactive touch-based media stations.
The second floor’s Return to a Native Place tells the more local story of the Algonquian peoples of the Chesapeake Bay region (today’s Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware). Window on the Collections (found on both the third and fourth levels) is for art lovers, showcasing 4,500 objects arranged in seven categories, including animal-themed figurines and objects, beadwork, dolls, and peace medals. 
Two special exhibits are worth visiting: "The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire" (through June 1, 2020) presents the fascinating story behind the 20,000-mile road, a century in the making, traversing mountains, lowlands, rivers, and deserts to link places that are now part of Columbia, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Ecuador, and Chile. “Americans” (through 2022) highlights the ways in which American Indian images, names, and stories infuse American history and contemporary life, and it sets the record straight about historical figures, like Pocahontas, and historical events, such as the Battle of Little Big Horn.
Families should check out the children’s ImagiNations activity center.