Sharing the Circle
The approximately one million objects in the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) collection were amassed by George Gustav Heye (1874-1957). The collection spans the Western Hemisphere from the Arctic to Tiera del Fuego and from California to the Caribbean. In 1989, through an act of Congress, NMAI became part of the Smithsonian Institution, the largest museum complex in the world.
NMAI's George Gustav Heye Center, at the Alexander Hamilton US Custom House, is only one of the three sites comprising the museum. Plans are underway for a museum building near the Capitol in Washington, DC, which will be the public cornerstone of NMAI. Because of its immensity, however, much of the collection will reside in Suitland, Maryland, where objects will be housed, viewed, and used by native peoples for many purposes, including ceremonial rite and artistic reference.
Dedicated to educating the public about the diversity and vitality of native cultures throughout the western Hemisphere, the museum actively supports the involvement of native communities in the management of their own cultural resources. A "Fourth Museum" exists in the form of outreach and training within native communities. Like a tree that draws its strength from many roots, the shape of the Fourth Museum is as varied
and flexible as the needs and wished of native communities, tribal cultural centers, schools, libraries and individuals.