(This is the introduction to Ella Inglebret’s teaching unit, “Honoring Tribal Legacies in Telling the Lewis and Clark Story.”)
From 1803-1806 Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led an expedition that traveled over 7,000 miles from St. Louis, Missouri to the Pacific Ocean and back. Their route took them through the homelands of over 100 American Indian tribal nations as they searched for a waterway connecting the eastern United States with the West. Members of the expedition survived because they were helped by American Indian people along the way. However, the story of the Lewis and Clark journey has typically been told from the perspectives of expedition members only. As stated by Germaine White (2002), a Salish leader, “Early accounts of the Lewis and Clark story largely excluded or dismissed the native peoples encountered by the explorers – people who had been here for millennia” (p. 44). The commemoration of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial held from 2003-2006 changed the way the story was being told. Tribal and non-tribal peoples came together in a partnership to plan for and participate in the Bicentennial. As a result, tribal peoples from along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail spoke with pride about their traditional cultures, histories, impressions of Lewis and Clark passed down through the oral tradition, their cultures today, and their plans for the future. Tribal peoples added their perspectives to the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition and its impacts.
What can be learned from honoring tribal legacies associated with the story of Lewis and Clark journey today? We can build cross-cultural understanding of how we got where we are. We can carry forward the “bridge building” among tribal and non-tribal peoples that occurred during the Bicentennial. We can see a more accurate, broad, and balanced picture of our history as a nation. As we take students through the journey of Lewis and Clark from the viewpoints of tribal peoples, we enlarge their worldviews. To borrow the words of historian, James Ronda, “Journeys should change us. Whether we are natives or newcomers, this journey – those voices – these stories should expand and enrich us. All of this should enlarge us, bring us face to face with wonder and strangeness” (Moody, 2003, p. 4). As we bring an enlarged range of perspectives together – both tribal and non-tribal – we have a greater pool of options available to find longterm solutions to challenges, such as wise use of our natural resources, sustainable health care, and education that meets the needs of a diverse student population. Our current students will be the problem-solvers of the future – broadening their perspectives holds potential for their futures, as well as for the futures of the next seven generations.