Prairie grass ripples along the shores of North Dakota's Lake Sakakawea, and a fat rainbow shimmers overhead. Here, if Amy Mossett has her way, an $11 million interactive museum will soon welcome visitors to the Lewis and Clark trail. Mossett, tourism director for the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes, is building replica earth lodges and planning sleep-in-a-teepee packages with ethno-botany hikes, buffalo-hide painting and lectures on tribal trade networks--insect repellent included. Her message: "Come and meet the descendants of the people who provided shelter to Lewis and Clark."
If the Mandan are as friendly today as they were 200 years ago, their neighbors the Sioux, who were ornery in their encounters with Lewis and Clark, remain almost as testy. A South Dakota "scenic byway" designation drew initial opposition on the Standing Rock reservation. Traditionalists fear that tourists will loot sacred grave sites. And while the tribe is seeking grants for roadside panels and interpretive centers, the message will be mixed. "Our people have for too long put on beads and feathers and danced for the white man," says Ronald McNeil, a great-great-great grandson of Chief Sitting Bull and president of the local community college. "Yes, we'll show how our ancestors lived when Lewis and Clark came up the trail. But then we must say what happened to them since. I'm tired of playing Indian and not getting to be an Indian."
With conflicting emotions running deep among the tribes, Lewis and Clark boosters hope to bridge the divide by touting the expedition as "a journey of mutual discovery." Their fear: that Indian protests will mar the festivities, as happened during the 1992 Columbus voyage anniversary. "We're not going to repeat the Columbus debacle," says Michelle Bussard, executive director of the National Council of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial. The nonprofit group has assembled a 30-member Circle of Tribal Advisers to promote Indian participation, and the National Park Service has chosen a Mandan-Hidatsa, Gerard Baker, to be superintendent of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. His traveling exhibit, "Corps of Discovery II," will be "a tent of many voices," he says, focusing on native cultures and their "hope for the future."
It's all very inclusive, but these are not Disney Indians. "We're not celebrating Lewis and Clark," says Tex Hall, president of the American Congress of Indians, who is scheduled to speak at the January launch of the commemoration at Monticello, outside Charlottesville, Va. "Still, people are making money on this, so don't leave out the Indians. It's an opportunity for us to tell our story." And to revive cultures that are slipping away. In Oregon, the Umatilla tribe, whose members told Clark they thought the explorers were "supernatural and came down from the clouds," wants funds for a language-immersion program, as only a handful of tribe members still speak their native language fluently. And the tribe hopes to publish an atlas of its Columbia River homeland with more than 1,000 native place names, long extinct.