The National Archives and the National Museum of the American Indian: A Partnership

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the National Museum of the American Indian have been working together for many years. Over that time, we have built a strong partnership, evidenced in our programming on the National Mall in Washington, DC, at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York City, and online.

When the National Museum of the American Indian opened in Washington in 2004, more than 20 original Indian treaties from the National Archives were included in the inaugural exhibits. Due to their fragility, the treaties were replaced with facsimiles after the first year. A decade later, the museum opened the exhibition “Nation to Nation,” featuring the stories of eight treaties representing U.S.–American Indian diplomacy from 1790 to 1868.

David S. Ferriero, Kevin Gover
Members of the Delaware Nation at Moraviantown, Ontario, Canada; the Delaware Tribe of Indians, Bartlesville, OK; and the Delaware Nation, Anadarko, OK, join the Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero, left, and Director of the National Museum of the American Indian Kevin Gover (Pawnee), center left, for a preview of the Treaty with the Delawares, 1778, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian on Thursday, May 10, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for National Museum of the American Indian)

In “Nation to Nation,” visitors can see an original Indian treaty, rotating every six months. For each treaty, the museum hosts a welcoming ceremony. Director Kevin Gover invites each tribe that was a party to the treaty to send representatives to a special viewing. There they to talk about the treaty’s meaning to them as individuals and as a people.

Because of the exhibition’s success, it has been extended into 2021. To date, nine treaties have been installed in the exhibition. In years to come, visitors will see an additional seven, including the 1835 Treaty of New Echota with the Cherokee and the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie with the Sioux.

This spring and summer, the 1778 Treaty with the Delawares is being featured. Throughout June, the Navajo Treaty of 1868, the previous treaty shown, has been on view at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona.

Educational Programs

The partnership between the National Archives and the museum also extends to new educational initiatives. Education staff at both institutions are collaborating to develop programs that connect teachers and students with the histories and experiences of Native communities as told through the holdings of the National Archives and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

The museum’s national education initiative, Native Knowledge 360° (NK360), provides educators and students with new perspectives on Native American history, cultures, and contemporary lives through online lessons and other resources that directly address Common Core, social studies, and other standards. NK360’s Essential Understandings about American Indians is a framework that offers new possibilities for creating student learning experiences, building on the 10 themes of the National Council for the Social Studies’ national curriculum standards.

imagiNATIONS Grand Opening Ceremony
Students from New York City Public School 276 compare the performance of Inka suspension bridge technology to an arched bridge structure in the imagiNATIONS Activity Center at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. (Jason DeCrow/AP Images for Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian)

The museum offers professional development opportunities for educators that range from evening and day-long workshops, to a five-day Summer Teacher Training Institute, to a summer position for a Teacher-in-Residence.

The museum in New York just opened a new imagiNATIONS Activity Center. Focused on hands-on learning about Native innovations that shape the world today, the center is designed for middle-school students and older and supports STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education. The Washington museum’s imagiNATIONS, which opened in 2011, offers cultural arts and sensory-learning programs for younger children.

At the Archives, staff held an Adult Native American Dance Workshop. Upcoming October 2018 and February 2019 Archives Sleepovers will be tied to Native American records and activities.

In the summer of 2018, the National Archives Distance Learning Team will unveil the new Native Communities program. This new resource provides web-based research aids, educational materials, and hands-on projects relating to interactions between the Federal Government and Native peoples from every corner of the United States from the 19th century until today.

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For more information about our programs visit: education/distance-learning. Or email us at: Use Native People in the subject line.

As part of this program, the National Archives’ upcoming 2018 Native American professional development series features teaching strategies for incorporating American Indian and Alaska Native materials into the classroom. This series will also include information to help Native communities use National Archives resources and materials in combination with their own records, in keeping with tribal-use restrictions. They include:

  • Citizen Archivists in the Classroom (featuring Native American records), September 15
  • Native American Stories about the Lewis and Clark Expedition, October 18
  • The Making of American Indian Treaties, November 1
  • Teaching the Indian Removal Act of 1830, November 15
  • Pen Pals from the Past: American Indian Schools in the United States, December 13

Visit the Distance Learning web page for more information and to register.

Additional details will be announced on the Education Updates Blog and the Professional Development Webinars page.

The National Archives and the museum have also worked together to support NARA’s National Conversation on Rights and Justice. The New York Conversation was hosted in the museum’s Diker Pavillion. Among the speakers was Suzan Shown Harjo, an advocate for women’s and Native rights and co-curator of “Nation to Nation.”

Indian Treaties Digitization

The Indian treaties at the National Archives are some of the United States’ most historically significant records and are considered national treasures. Thanks to generous support from an anonymous donor and the National Archives Foundation, NARA is able to embark on an effort to digitize the ratified Indian treaties from the vault holdings (377 treaties in all). Much-needed conservation work will be performed on the treaties before they are scanned. The scanning will include the treaties themselves along with accompanying Presidential proclamations and resolutions of ratification by the U.S. Senate.

Once the treaties have been conserved and digitized, select facsimile treaties relating to New York history will be the focus of a gallery installation at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York in September.

Other Native American Records in the National Archives

Among the billions of historical records housed at the National Archives throughout the country, researchers can find information relating to American Indians from as early as 1774 and into the 21st century. The National Archives preserves and makes available the documents created by Federal agencies in the course of their daily business. 

Treaty with Six Nations, 1794. (National Archives Identifier 12013254)

The bulk of the materials were created by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as the government agency responsible for managing treaty obligations to federally recognized tribes. These records express the view of the government but also of the leaders of the tribes and individual tribal members.

The treaties demonstrate the complicated relationship that has always existed between tribes and the American Federal Government, from allotment and the selling of lands under the Dawes Act (1887), to the creation of tribal governments under the Indian Reorganization Act (1934), the relocation of an entire generation of Indian people under the Indian Relocation Act (1956), and the blossoming of tribal identity under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (1975).

In addition, the National Archives holds the records of the modern battleground for tribal sovereignty rights—the U.S. courts. These include Supreme Court cases such as California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians (1987), as well as records documenting cases’ movement through the Federal court system.

The records at the National Archives are unique. They document both the culture and history of American Indian peoples and the ever-changing nature of their relationship with the U.S. Government for nearly 250 years.


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