The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) opened September 21, 2004 with a Native Nations Procession in which over 20,000 indigenous people from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America united and walked along the National Mall to the museum's entrance. The opening ceremonies lasted from September 21 to 26 with over 300 performances by indigenous representatives.
The museum, with the dramatic backdrop of the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., is the final structure that will be built on the Mall. Museum director, Richard West, explained that the location of the NMAI, "symbolizes a deeper understanding and reconciliation between America's first citizens and those who have come to make these shores their home." The NMAI collection includes over 800,000 objects from over 1,000 indigenous peoples throughout the Americas and represents 10,000 years of cultural evolution.
The vast majority of Native Americans responded positively to the opening of the NMAI. Gayokla Nichi Jr., of the Blackfoot nation, felt that the museum acted as a means for "bringing traditional people north and south all together and sealing the gap that a lot of people have created between natives." When asked what he thought about the museum Nichi responded, "The museum is a great thing. I believe this should've been done about 100 years ago." Nichi said that the NMAI is a, "step for the culture - Every culture in society has their museums and their things. Our culture is being stripped piece by piece. Let's rebuild our culture with the little bit that we still have. A museum is a good thing."
Night Wolf, of the Cherokee nation, was pleased with how many indigenous peoples united at the museum's opening. "Indigenous peoples, Native Americans, people from New Zealand, the South Pacific, and people with native ancestry who celebrate their Native American heritage as well as the European all participated in the events." She continued in saying that the scene outside the new museum was unique, "You couldn't find the likes of the events that occurred here today anywhere." In all, indigenous peoples felt a considerable amount of unity and harmony during the opening ceremonies.
Derrick Strong of the Eastern Pequot Nation believes that the location and timing of the museum "means that they never forgot about us, so hopefully we will be recognized even more now, federally, worldwide." Strong believes the NMAI will be "a meeting place for the future."
The NMAI is a museum that will stand erect on the nation's mall for decades to come, and in doing so it acts "like a time capsule" according to Eddi McCray of the Dine (Navajo) Nation, providing factual information not only about the history of American Indians, but modern ways of life as well. McCray, a face painter who has a picture of his regalia on display in the NMAI, is thrilled about the museum because although he will not be alive in 100 years, his story and his culture will be preserved in the museum.
At the opening ceremonies of the museum, native peoples united to celebrate and honor their past, present, and future cultural heritage and achievements. In the words of Night Wolf, the week's celebrations were certainly, "honoring moments in history."