The American Indian has claimed his rightful place on the National Mall. The National Museum of the American Indian opened Tuesday at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
It's been a long trek for that kind of acceptance and recognition - from poverty-ridden reservations and boarding schools where Indian children were forbidden to speak their native languages to sovereign nations that at long last are determining their own destinies, reclaiming their culture and traditions and becoming major players in the economies and futures of the regions where they live.
The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation is a prime example of that progress. And several of its members, including Tamastslikt Director Bobbie Conner and Board of Trustees Chairman Antone Minthorn, were in D.C. to participate in Tuesday's celebration.
Museum officials estimated the crowd at 30,000 to 40,000 people. It was fitting, because the museum represents Indians from Alaska to South America. Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo Manrique was there, the first indigenous person to be elected to lead Peru in modern Democratic history. So were Sens. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.
All indications are the museum is worthy of the anticipation. It's a four-story complex crafted of rough-hewn limestone. But equally impressive is the native landscape that honors tribes around the Americas with a meadow, crops, woods, wetlands, 700 trees and more than 33,000 individual plants. Inside are nearly a million American Indian artifacts.
Conner called the museum and the opening ceremonies "phenomenal ... it's a fabulous facility."
True to its intentions, the museum will lend even its most delicate pieces to tribal members for ceremonies. And it has instituted a strict policy on human remains, sacred objects or objects that may have been acquired illegally. Such items will be returned to groups able to demonstrate a cultural affiliation or factual claim to them.
Recognition of the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas, in the shadow of the nation's capitol, comes at the same time the U.S. Postal Service is unveiling "Art of the American Indian" postage stamps. The stamps "represent a small sampling of the diverse ways that Native Americans - in the context of their everyday lives - created useful objects that were also extraordinary expressions of beauty," the Postal Service announced.
Such recognition was a long time coming, but the country will be better for it.