Lewis & Clark--About This "Discovery" Thing...

A different -- or fuller -- story is just what Northwest Indian tribes intend to tell this year and next during the bicentennial of when the Corps of Discovery briefly roamed these parts and noted observations in journals.

"People look at the journals as truth. Lewis and Clark had never been here before. They didn't know the language. They didn't know the people," says Ferren Penney, director of the newly created tourism department for the Nez Perce Tribe.

"All they did in the journals was encourage people to come" for arable land etc., says Marilyn Skahan-Malatare, curator of the Yakama Nation Museum. "Did they think nobody lived here? It's like we were invisible ... and that angers some people."

The anticipation of the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery has stirred debate and rekindled anger among Northwest tribes. In 1998, Nez Perce historian and tribal elder Allen Pinkham, Sr., began to visit other tribes up and down the Snake and Columbia rivers to urge participation. Bicentennial events are going to happen anyway, Pinkham argued, and if tribes are involved (via the Circle of Tribal Advisors -- COTA), native peoples can at least tell their part of the story.

Most tribes around here heeded his advice. The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs have folded their arms, the Chinook Tribe has bailed out of a planned event on the coast this November, but most others have scheduled their own cultural and historical events to dovetail with the National Park Service road show, Corps of Discovery II.

Some tribal officials say tribal members have scoffed at such participation. "A lot of people still have hard feelings about Lewis and Clark. That all they brought to the Northwest was disease and alcohol," Skahan-Malatare says.

But Bobbie Conner of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, who has served both on COTA and is vice president of the National Council of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, says there's more to it.

"We allowed them to live here. They were 33 curious passengers bumbling their way through our homeland, supported by our Nez Perce relatives," she says.

Two centuries later, "Allen Pinkham was in a meeting with our tribal chairman in 1998, focused on the fact that not only was the spotlight going to sweep across the nation, but also sweep across our homeland," Conner says.

What do you want the spotlight to show? Pinkham challenged.

"One message is we are still here and we are very much alive," Conner answers. "One message is we are restoring our homeland, paying attention to species that lived here then and don't live here now."

The Yakamas intend to show the trade networks traveled by Lewis and Clark were not only ancient, but moved staples, luxuries, new technologies, news and gossip efficiently across at least half the continent.

People weren't just sitting around waiting to be discovered. And still aren't.

But just as tribes weren't exactly sure how to deal with Lewis and Clark then, they still aren't quite sure how to respond to the anniversary. Gary Johnson, chairman of the Chinook Tribal Council, says his tribe has reluctantly broken with the Bicentennial planners after a former Chinook tribal council member created, in essence, a new tribe called the Clatsop-Nehalems, and was granted a seat at the COTA and event planning tables. Johnson is so hurt he will only say "that man" when he refers to Clatsop-Nehalem chairman Joe Scovell. Johnson feels betrayed that a native group with long and documented ties to Lewis and Clark wasn't treated any better than this upstart group, which, he says, has a not-so-hidden agenda to use the Bicentennial to lobby for federal recognition.

Massive and sudden change came in the wake of Lewis and Clark. And it came so fast that members of local tribes who, as children, saw Lewis and Clark come through, were adults at the signing of the Treaty of 1855, when indigenous cultures here suffered a near-fatal blow.

Next June, however, the Nez Perce -- one of just four tribes to put on a Bicentennial "Significant Event" -- will introduce Summer of Peace, which, Penney says, is intended to commemorate peace between all cultures.

The two captains would have been glad to discover such a thing.

Bicentenniel Tribal Events & r & Shoshone Tribe & r & Sacagawea Heritage Days. Aug. 12-21. This weekend: National Park Service's Tent of Many Voices, re-enactments, blues, barbecue, street festival. Salmon, Idaho. www.sacajaweacenter.org Call (208) 756-1188.

Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla & r & Oct 21-24. Tent of Many Voices stops at Tamastslikt Cultural Institute, Pendleton, Ore. The Corps II exhibit joins tribal exhibits on culture/history. www.tamastslikt.com. Call (541) 966-9748

Chinook Tribe & r & Nov. 11-15. Destination: The Pacific, Longview, Wash., and Astoria, Ore. Tribe has boycotted this "Signature Event" and will stage own activities. www.lewisandclark200.org, click on calendar events tab, for one event. Call Chinook Tribe for the other, (360) 777-8303.

Yakama Nation & r & April 2006. Tent of Many Voices to visit Toppenish, Wash. Tribe has own exhibit (opens Jan. 2006) on pre-contact trade networks. Call Yakama Nation Museum (509) 865-2800.

Nez Perce & r & Summer of Peace: Among the Ni-mii-puu, June 14-17, 2006. A tribe-sponsored "Signature Event" commemorating peaceful relations between cultures. Lewiston area. www.lewisandclark200.org, click on calendar events tab. Call Nez Perce Tribe (208) 843-2253.

Northwest Winterfest @ Spokane County Fair & Expo Center

Through Jan. 2, 2022, 5-9 p.m.
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About The Author

Kevin Taylor

Kevin Taylor is a staff writer for The Inlander. He has covered politics, the environment, police and the tribes, among many other things.