Pause and Listen
A Female Building
A Female Building
Learn how for Native cultures, water represents life and the meaning behind the welcome plaza symbols.
An Audio Transcript
For Native cultures, water represents life. As you look over the wetlands, imagine this area extending as far as your eye can see, because this is what this area originally looked like.
Gabrielle Tayac, who is Piscataway, is a researcher and historian at the Museum.
People have misconceptions about swamps and wetlands. In old times prior to erosion that took place later because of the cutting down of trees and the deforestation, you could even ride a horse into a swamp and not sink into it. [And ]the water in it would be quite clean so its an entirely different view of what it would have been like 400 years ago than how we experience a swamp today. its really a very rich and alive place in its natural form. This small area is teeming with life.
It's very diverse, it attracts a unique kind of fauna, ranging from the migrating birds we've seen landing here to insects that are attracted to the water. If you're lucky, you may spot an occasional heron or eagle flying nearby.
Duane Blue Spruce, who is Laguna and San Juan Pueblo. tells of his close encounter with a wild bird.
It was a snowy day, the pond area was frozen over, and it was covered with a light dusting of snow. From the north a large bird came flying over the site and landed on the frozen wetland area, [and jusdgin by it's consderalbe siz e and shoe I x=could tell it was a blue heron. …so this bird very gingerly walked across the ice leaving these very large footprints in the snow, …and then no sooner than he had arrived than he started flapping his wings and took off to the south probably headed for a warmer climate. [It was] a very personal moment for me because [I felt like it was just me and the heron and no one else.
An Audio Transcript
This is the welcome plaza. Go ahead and walk to the center of the circle. Pause when you get there. José Montaño.
"This open space is called the Welcome Plaza.
In different Native villages they have open public spaces and these spaces are used for ceremonies, for
political purposes, for social occasions, for economic purposes. Based on this
idea, the architects and designers created this open area called the Welcome
Plaza. So it's the place where people come together."
Notice the pattern of rings and orbs on the paving stones. Each one of the orbs represents a planet as it was positioned over Washington, D.C., on November 28, 1989, the museum's birthday.
The cosmos has always held great significance in the daily lives of Native peoples.
For thousands of years, Native peoples have looked to the skies to understand their place in the cosmos and to organize their daily lives.
Look at the markings on the museum's etched glass
doors. They are sun symbols.
"They represent the cultures from all the Americas. In
our ceremonial structures as well as our houses, the doors face the east. This
is how we express our thankfulness and happiness from all this energy from the
sun. As well as everything we have received from our creator. "
Look up at the Museum's east facing side.
Because of its roundness and curves, and the warm color of the stone,
we think of the building as female.
Duane Blue Spruce is Laguna and San Juan Pueblo.
"We were in the concept phase of the project and what we did is we basically took
the design out on the road so to speak to get
feedback from different Native people and different locations on the
concept design at that point. We had a meeting where the design team presented the project and we had I'd say 30, 40 people in the room from the Native community in that area. Throughout the day
we had gotten some pretty you know honest criticism from a lot of people in the
room. There was one particular table of gentlemen who were kind of I have to
say they were dressed like bikers frankly..I'm thinking to myself this is not going to be good. One of them stood up and said, "Our tribe is matrilineal, and our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters
are held in high esteem. We just want to commend you and thank you for building
the first female building on the Mall."