Ken Olsen: Discovering Lewis and Clark

Roundup: Talking About History

..."A dismaying amount of our history has been written without regard to the Indians," writer and historian Bernard DeVoto observed more than 50 years ago.

Such disregard is glaring in many mainstream stories of Lewis and Clark.

"They wouldn't have made it if we hadn't been here to show them how to hunt and what wood to chop," Hudson's granddaughter, Cassi Rench, says of the Mandan's critical role in Lewis and Clark surviving the 45-below days of the winter of 1804-05.

"It was two men -- two men who encountered at least 48 different tribes," adds educator Judy BlueHorse of Portland, Ore. "And yet it's always a story about these two men."

In Recovery from 'Discovery' Dazzled by the notion of Manifest Destiny, American history tends to eulogize what Lewis and Clark "found" on their 7,400-mile journey. For Native Americans, the story instead is about what was lost -- lives, land, languages and freedom.

"Within 100 years of Lewis and Clark passing through here, every Native nation they encountered was displaced from their traditional lands and put on reservations," says BlueHorse, who works in the Indian Education Program for Portland Public Schools. "The ancient forests were clear cut. The great buffalo herds that fed (the expedition) were reduced to fewer than 300 animals, and the last Oregon sea otter, whose highly prized pelts had helped fuel (President Thomas) Jefferson's mission, was gone."

Pacific salmon, which the Nez Perce Indians fed the starving expedition in northern Idaho, continue to struggle for survival against lethal changes wrought by the dam-and-reservoir landscape. These same reservoirs drowned the most important Native American fishing sites and many sacred sites.

"I think continuing to glorify exploitation as exploration is dangerous," says BlueHorse, who is Nez Perce, Chickasaw and Cherokee. "We're in recovery from 'discovery.'" ...

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John W Bland - 1/30/2006

Who cares? (I do, but what difference can I make.)
They are remembered.