Thursday, July 01, 2004

A Personal Perspective on the Lewis & Clark Journey 2004

For the past four years I have been involved with the legacy of Lewis & Clark. I have been participating with two Lewis & Clark State Parks, one in Onawa, Iowa and the other in Ponca, Nebraska. I have been advising them because of either the visible lack of Native American Indian involvement or obvious lack of cultural sensativity.

In Onawa, Iowa they have a Lewis & Clark Festival, I believe it is their 11th annual. Although the crews at Onawa mean well, they continue to perpetuate negative stereotypes in regards to the Native American Indian. The Omaha Tribe is the closest of four tribes in the Nebraska, unfortunately they have little or no involvement with the Park as a whole. We have tried to share our thoughts & concerns with very little impact. The park says it is because of lack of financial resources, thats why they have such a poor portrayal of the American Indian. During their fesitval year after year they make every effort to be historically correct when it comes to Lewis & Clark right down to the hat and shoes.  On the other hand when portraying the Native American Indian, little effort is made to have them involved.  The involvement that is Indian is generic and stereotipical, some women wear buckskins and broadcloth dresses wearing war paint and feathers.  Vendors exploit the crafts, even food vendors get into the act, all at the expense of the Native American Indian.  It is no wonder why most local indians do not get involved with them. The real irony is that this park could be highlighting and promoting the fact that two of the Corps of Discovery members on Lewis & Clarks crew were half Omaha Indian, Pierre Cruzatte and Fancois Labiche.

There is very little involvement in Ponca, Nebraska even thou there are two tribes close by, the Santee Sioux and the Northern Ponca Tribe of Nebraska.  When they did get monies they purchased artifacts with no counsel, one of the things they purchased was a Peace Pipe.... This is probably one of the last things they should of had on their inventory if they at all.  The Pipe to tribes of the plains is sacred and is full of tradition, ceremony and is a religion unto itself.  It can be a way of life for those who believe in it.  It is something very intimate, personal, spiritual and profound.  It is something that is hard to explain and should be displayed with the deepest respect if displayed at all.   

The next thing was a leather War Shirt another tourist favorite; unfortunately it perpetuates negative stereotypes that all Indians waged war and that they are all violent, barbaric and cruel in nature.  These sort of statements have a duel effect both for the general public and the young Indian as well.  It sends a negative image for the youth with Native American Indian heritage.  It can confuse our youth to think that we are violent and cruel when in fact true native cultures are based on prayer, compassion, humilty, sincerity and generosity. 

Part of the problem I believe it is the park's inability to effectively communicate with these tribes either on a one on one basis and/or government to government, conversely the tribes themselves have failed to see the importance of postive public relationships. The parks lack knowledge of our culture; lack the fundamental understanding of our values, beliefs and/or traditions. The parks have been reluctant to create close relationships primarily because of pre-conceived ideals they have about Indians in general. Funding for projects have been limited but when obtained not used as effectively as they could be. Festivals that allow negative steroetypes create year after year a wall of resentment and suspicion from the local tribes.  Tribes look at the Park Service as one group representing Lewis & Clark legacy, failing to realize that the States and Federal Park projects are funded differently and all have their own plan of operation and  separate agendas/goals. To make matters worse most of the small town parks are in great need of economic development  "Tourism" and unfortunately care little about the message they send in regards to the native peoples of the area both historically and/or contemporarily.

I point these things out, urging different organizations to take the time to gain an understanding of the spirituality and diversity of Native American Indian people. The Native American Indian is complex yet compassionate, humble, generous and resilient in nature. I always try to convey a sense of who we are as a people both in a historical perspective and in the contempory settings today. The more we understand about each other from both sides, the Indian and non-Indian, hopefully the more tolerance we will have for each other while making a better life for the future generations.

The Lewis & Clark Tent of Many Voices a project of the National Park Service has it hands full. As they go upstream and retrace the trek, they want to hear the Indians story from the Indian perspective, they want Indian involvement and they are trying their best to be culturally sensative and respectful to the Tribes and/or Tribal members.  It is just that there has been years of exclusion, explotation, insensativity and obvious contempt in some cases.  For the native people to really get involved it will take prayer, perserverance, honesty and tolerance.  As Indians and non-Indians we need to co-exist, history cannot be changed, but we do have a say in regards to the future. Together we can make a difference and in time that too will become a part of history.