CODY, Wyo. (AP) -- Visitors streamed into the rebuilt Plains Indian Museum on Saturday to view $3.8 million worth of new exhibits that museum officials and American Indians expect to provide a more complete picture of the lives of past and contemporary Indians.
''We wanted to get rid of the stereotypes and provide all the dimensions of the Indian way of life,'' said Curly Bear Wagner of Browning, Mont., a Blackfeet member of the museum's advisory board. ''We didn't call it a religion, we called it a way of life, because everything was done through prayer, and I think people now can begin to understand that.''
A procession of tribal representatives from across the plains were first to view the new exhibits.
The Plains Indian Museum is one four main wings of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.
The museum had been closed since last fall as workers gutted it and rebuilt its galleries and displays from the ground up.
Lloyd Kiva New of the advisory board, in the opening ceremonies, said many Indian artifacts had been stored in the basement, but the new displays recognize Indians ''not as a basement culture, but as a top-floor culture.''
Many museums have traditionally portrayed American Indian history as one of conflict with European settlers moving into North America, with many of their displays filled with ''the spoils of war,'' New said. But the renovated Plains Indian Museum lets Indian culture stand on its own, he said.
''No longer are the Indians confined to a time warp of buffalo and tepees -- they are with us today,'' said Al Simpson, former U.S. senator from Wyoming and chairman of the Historical Center's board of trustees.
The renovated museum features a Hidatsa earth lodge with constellations visible through a central hole in the ceiling above, a massive diorama and multimedia presentation surrounding an original plains Indian teepee, and a reconstruction of a reservation log home from the early part of the century.
Wagner said the rebuilt museum represents a ''100 percent improvement'' over its previous incarnation, which tended more toward large glass cases containing rows of artifacts.
''We wanted to put all that in a perspective where everyone could understand its importance -- Indian and non-Indian alike,'' Wagner said, pointing to a nearby gallery that highlights the role of buffalo in Indian culture.
''Buffalo were not only important historically -- they are still important to our people even today.''
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