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WHY D.C. IS GETTING A NEW MUSEUM

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Though the District of Columbia is crowded with memorials, monuments and museums, their ranks reflect a glaring oversight. Nowhere in the nation's capital is there a facility devoted to the great contributions of American Indians.

At long last, this situation is going to change - thanks to a bill signed last week by President Bush. The bill creates a new National Museum of the American Indian near the Capitol Building.Over the years, the Smithsonian Institution has acquired a priceless collection of Indian art and artifacts that could make a major contribution to just such an understanding. What's needed now is a place to display this collection.

The planned new museum will enable the millions of tourists who visit Washington each year to see painted hides and garments from the Sioux, carvings of wood, stone and horn from the tribes along the northwest coast of North America, textiles from Mexico and the American Southwest, Kachina dance masks and dolls from the Southwest, carved Eskimo masks and gold engravings from the ancient Aztec culture of Mexico. Also on display will be jade from the Olmec and Mayan civilizations, exhibitions of archaeology from the Caribbean, and feather work from the Amazon.

The Indians had been living in the Americas thousands of years before any European arrived. The European explorers followed Indian trails to sources of water and deposits of minerals. The Indians taught them to make snowshoes and toboggans and to travel by canoe. The Indians also grew many foods that the newcomers had never heard of. The ups and downs of relations between Indians and whites also constitute a major thread of America's history.

The National Museum of the American Indian will send a signal that the Indian is finally coming to be recognized as a key part of the great story that is America.