ARTS: More than just Sacajawea: Lewis and Clark and the Indian Country“Lewis and Clark and the Indian Country” also reflects on the history of a vibrant culture of many Native American societies
By: Dave Boe, Living North
Every school child may know about the Lewis and Clark Expedition that explored the newly purchased territory for President Thomas Jefferson at the beginning of the 19th century.
But if you visit the “Lewis and Clark and the Indian Country” exhibit at the University of Minnesota Duluth Library, on display through Feb. 25, you may get an entirely new understanding of what happened during the
Corps of Discovery’s adventures.
Along with slapping at mosquitoes, hunting buffalo and other game, punishing mischievous soldiers and documenting hundreds of new flora and fauna, the Lewis and Clark expedition crossed the traditional homelands of more than 50 Native American tribes. The focus of the exhibition is way these tribes perceived the explorers and how they interacted.
The exhibit was organized by the Newberry Library in Chicago, in cooperation with the American Library Association. It tells the story of the 1804 to 1806 expedition from the point of view of the Indians along Lewis and Clark’s route.
“What often gets lost in the story is that Lewis and Clark did not explore a wilderness – they traveled through an inhabited homeland,” says Frederick Hoxie, he exhibit’s curator and Swanlund Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “This expedition is part of the history of the native peoples the explorers met, and the exhibit offers us an opportunity to understand an Indian perspective on our
shared American past.”
The UMD library was selected as one of 27 sites for the six-year traveling exhibit. The university was especially interested in displaying the exhibit because of its emphasis on explorers, the important role they
played in the development of the United States and its examination of how Native Americans interacted with the men of the expedition. Assistant Library Director, Liz Benson Johnson and former Duluth Public Library
employee Wendy Wennberg collaborated to apply for the grant that allowed the traveling exhibit to come to UMD with support from the local native American community, UMD’s American Indian Studies department, the Duluth Public Library and the St. Louis County Historical Society.
“We think visitors will gain a better understanding of the Lewis and Clark expedition through this educational display,” says UMD Library Director, Bill Sozansky.
In addition to the traveling exhibit, UMD will also provide inhouse exhibit with maps and historical photos that depict area Ojibwe people, families and communities, including those in Nett Lake, Grand Marais, Grand Portage, Fond du Lac and Duluth. The university will also host several lectures in conjunction with the Lewis and Clark exhibit that focus on how western expansion affected Minnesota native populations.
“Lewis and Clark and the Indian Country” also reflects on the history of a vibrant culture of many Native American societies that didn’t realize the coming of Jefferson’s great enterprise marked the beginning of the end for their way of life. The exhibit asks this question: What will be left of the Native American culture when all Americans honor the tri-centennial of the Lewis and Clark adventure in 2104? “Hosting this presentation is keeping with the library’s goal of stimulating learning on our campus,” says Sozansky.