Tribes want consideration as visitors see explorers’ journey

The Associated Press
Monday April 15, 2002

LEWISTON, Idaho – The tribes along the route of Lewis and Clark’s expedition to the Pacific Ocean 200 years ago want the upcoming commemoration to be accurate, considerate and develop relationships that will last. 

“It’s not going to be easy,” said Bobbie Conner of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla. “It’s going to be hard, but it’s worth doing because it’s the right thing to do.” 

She is western co-chairwoman of the circle of tribal advisers to the National Council of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, which held a planning workshop in Lewiston. 

More than 130 representatives of 58 tribes gathered in Lewiston for five days last week for a final planning conference for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commemoration of 2003-2006. 

The tribes are joining in the planning, saying the whole story has not been told. 

Their views of the Lewis and Clark Expedition sees it as the beginning of the end of the freedom for thousands of Indians who lost their lands, independence and many of their traditions to the white men who followed. 

“I have always said, and my staff has always said, this is first and foremost an American Indian story,” said Gerard Baker, superintendent of the Lewis and Clark Trail with the National Park Service. 

“The one aspect that has been left out is the Indians telling their own story,” said Baker, a member of the Mandan-Hidatsa tribes. 

The tribes have sought and received assurances from the national council that their side of the story will be told and that potentially several million dollars will be made available to help them out. However most of the money for the commemoration has yet to be raised. 

The council selected the 15 signature events to highlight significant points in the Corps of Discovery’s trip. They will be held at places along the trail from 2003 to 2006. 

The council hopes to raise $250,000 for each event plus an additional $250,000 for the tribes in each region to tell their stories. 

Another goal will be preserving natural resources and sacred sites. Tribal members will not tolerate being a part of something that brings more harm to the environment, Conner said. 

Horace Axtell, a Nez Perce tribal elder, sang and prayed in a Friday ceremony to restore some of the sanctity of the Smoking Place. That site, which Lewis and Clark visited, is sacred to the Nez Perce as a meeting place. 

But last fall vandals tumbled three rock cairns over a cliff. 

If a tribe’s name is going to be mentioned in promotional materials, the tribe should be consulted when the documents are still in draft form, Conner said. Events need to begin with a prayer offered by the tribe that lives in the region. 

Relationships between the participants should last long past 2006 when the bicentennial ends, said Conner, who lives near Pendleton, Ore. “In most of our homelands we continue to experience racism.” 

Michelle Bussard, executive director of the council, said her group backs Conner’s message and will be monitoring the events to be sure they follow the “principles of involvement.” 

In an age when public efforts such as the 1992 quadricentennial celebration of Columbus brought accusations of conquest and cultural genocide, some were surprised at the tribes’ participation in the conference. 

“This is the result of four years of working with the tribes,” said Bussard, whose headquarters are at Portland’s Lewis and Clark College. 

Tim Mentz of the Standing Rock Sioux said he is worried that the bicentennial will accelerate a trend to vandalism and unauthorized digging. 

He is preservation officer for his reservation, which straddles North Dakota and South Dakota. He is the only person monitoring some 600 archaeological sites in the area. 

One Lewis and Clark campsite on the reservation already has been plundered, he said. 

“I’m not hearing how we are going to protect these sites,” Mentz said. “How are we going to push this to a national issue?’ He said the tribes need to make it clear “that we are not archaeological specimens.”