Ron Edmonds  /  AP
President Bush talks with Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell in the East Room of the White House during event marking the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian.
updated 9/23/2004 10:13:11 AM ET 2004-09-23T14:13:11

President Bush on Thursday marked the opening of the new American Indian National Museum, saying it will serve as a powerful reminder of the spirit and vitality of peoples native to the nation.

“The National Museum of Indian affairs affirms that this young country is home to an ancient, noble and enduring native culture,” Bush said in the East Room of the White House. “And all Americans are proud of that culture.”

Members of Congress and Indian tribal leaders joined Bush at the ceremony.

“Like many Indian dwellings, the new museum building faces east toward the rising sun,” the president said. “And as we celebrate this new museum and we look to the future, we can say that the sun is rising on Indian country.”

Directed by W. Richard West Jr., a member of the Southern Cheyenne nation, the museum holds 8,000 objects from across the Western Hemisphere. Four million people a year are expected to visit the museum to watch movies, listen to Native American music and see paintings, photographs, sculptures, masks, weapons, jewelry and medals.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of Native Americans participated in a procession down Pennsylvania Avenue, beginning a weeklong festival in Washington to celebrate the opening of the $124 million museum. The five-story museum is situated on four acres between the Capitol and the Washington Monument, and takes up the last remaining spot on the grassy National Mall.

The museum opens with three permanent exhibits: “Our Universes,” featuring tribal philosophies and world views; “Our Peoples,” a look at historical events from a native peoples’ perspective; and “Our Lives,” which focuses on native people today.

The “Our Peoples” exhibit tackles some issues of interaction with the U.S. government and its European predecessors. It includes highlights — such as U.S. currency with the faces of American Indians — as well as lowlights, from treaties violated by the government to weapons used to kill Indians.

Not all Native Americans have embraced the new museum. The American Indian Movement, an activist group, issued a statement claiming the museum failed to display the tragic history of the U.S. government’s “holocaust” against the nations and peoples of the Americas.

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