(2 of 4)
For more than a century, the history of Lewis and Clark's encounters with the 58 tribes along the trail has been defined by the white men's journals. The Mandan, who fed them, danced with them and offered them sexual favors over the bitterly cold winter of 1804-05, were described as good neighbors. The Lemhi Shoshone, Lewis wrote, were "not only cheerful but even gay, fond of gaudy dress...generous with the little they possess, extreemly honest..." He admired the Chinook for their canoes, "remarkably neat, light and well adapted for riding high waves" but disparaged their "well-known treachery."
Today Indians are looking to their own oral histories, as well as reading between the lines of the journals, to re-interpret what happened. Says Ben Sherman, president of the Western American Indian Chamber in Denver: "The upcoming events portray Clark as the benevolent protector of Indians--that's propagandist baloney." The tragic aftermath: as Governor of the Missouri Territory and Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Clark presided over President Thomas Jefferson's land-grab policy, which some historians characterize as a direct cause of "cultural genocide" and "ethnic cleansing."
In his journal, Lewis called the Blackfeet "a vicious lawless and reather an abandoned set of wretches." But today's Blackfeet want no one to forget that two of their warriors were killed in a skirmish sparked by Lewis' talk of selling arms to rival tribes. "We knew, 'There goes the neighborhood,'" says tribe member James Craven, a professor at Clark University in Vancouver, Wash. Diplomatic blunders also fueled a confrontation with the Teton Sioux, gatekeepers of the Missouri, whom Clark later called "the vilest miscreants of the savage race." LaDonna Bravebull, a Standing Rock tour guide, touts her ancestors' viewpoint as, "We're not taking your trinkets and your great white father. I don't think so!"
Looking back, the Sioux had it right. Jefferson had told Lewis to inform "those through whose country you will pass" that "henceforth we become their fathers and friends, and that we shall endeavor that they shall have no cause to lament the change." But whites brought diseases that killed as many as 90% of some tribes' members. Most of the tribes Lewis and Clark encountered were forced off the rivers that sustained their commerce and culture and herded onto reservations with poor soil. Today a third of Native Americans live below the poverty line, and half are unemployed.
The challenge for tribes is to share this history without inducing compassion fatigue in the tourists they hope to attract. One thing that unites Lewis and Clark enthusiasts and naysayers is the burgeoning revival of Native American traditions. For visitors, tribal culture offers a glimpse of the American past. For Indians, it is key to their survival as distinct peoples. At the Boys and Girls Club on Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, the posters read TRADITION, NOT ADDICTION. At an Indian Health Service clinic in Mobridge, S.D., teenage methamphetamine users are introduced to the sweat lodge. The Cheyenne River Sioux run a herd of more than 2,000 buffalo and distribute meat to tribe members, while the Lower Brule Sioux are planning a buffalo museum.