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A Confluence of Cultures: Native Americans and the Expedition of Lewis and Clark

As we approach the bicentennial of the Corps of Discovery's voyage, many programs are being planned that focus on this defining event. As might be expected, programs to date have highlighted, and been run by, established Lewis and Clark aficionados and experts. In proposing "A Confluence of Cultures," the education committee of the Montana Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission seeks to broaden this circle of interest and give voice to an important but underrepresented perspective.

The entire length and breadth of the Corp's voyage was Indian country. On many occasions, Lewis and Clark's survival and success depended on their interaction with Native American people and their cultures. Any complete commemoration of the bicentennial of the voyage must prominently feature the perspectives of these peoples native to the North American continent.

We seek stories from Indian people about encounters with the Lewis and Clark expedition. We hope that their contributions will lead to a provocative symposium that stimulates serious discussion and generates for publication new Native American scholarship. Toward this end, we will enlist the involvement of faculty and students from America's 30 tribal colleges. Also, we seek to challenge non-Indian scholars to investigate questions relevant to the encounter between the Lewis and Clark and native peoples.

In addition to doing the serious work of filling an important academic void, we seek to come together in this symposium as cultural celebrants, challenging creative people to share music, dance, theatre, and other arts that might help us to consider and appreciate the separate riches of the different cultures and the excitement created in their coming together.

We seek participants for this symposium who might be interested in considering any of the following (or similar) themes:

Explore the problems created in trying to apply the Jeffersonian agrarian ideal to native tribes with a deep cultural tradition of hunting and gathering.

Compare Native American medical perspectives/strategies with those of the Lewis and Clark expedition, with U.S. best practices at the time (circa 1803), and with medical perspectives and strategies dominant in the U.S. today.

Consider and compare the highly multilingual and multicultural past that existed in North America two hundred years ago with the relatively monolingual and mono-cultural present (considering the present, strong impulse toward conformity in contrast to a possible acceptance/appreciation of diversity).

Compare successful Indian trade networks from the time of Lewis and Clark with business practices dominant in the U.S. at the time (circa 1803) and today.

Compare traditional and contemporary tribal governance models with governance used by the Corps of Discovery and the United States at the time (circa 1803) and the political system in the dominant culture today.

Consider the newness of U.S. history in comparison with the oldness of Native American history.

Consider the differences between cultures that rely on oral traditions and those that rely on written scholarship.

Compare the differences between Indian ideas about sacred places and the modern, popular notion that Montana is "The Last Best Place."

Explain the sexual mores and marriage rules (i.e.: polygamy, etc.) of native peoples in Lewis and Clark's time and compare them to those of the Corps of Discovery and the dominant U.S. culture.

Compare the respect for the elderly in most traditional Indian cultures with the youth-focused orientation of the majority culture.

Consider the animals, the plants, and the relationships of people to the environment in pre-U.S. Montana with the interaction of humans and environment here today.

Consider the religious traditions and perspectives of the Native peoples that Lewis and Clark encountered and compare them with the religious traditions and perspectives of the members of the expedition and the dominant U.S. culture (including how these traditions and perspectives influenced many other aspects of life-relationships with the elderly, animals and nature in general, medicine, music, etc.).

Consider the differences in the forms and uses of music and dance in Native American cultures, among the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and in the dominant U.S. culture at the time of the expedition (and marry the consideration of these different forms and uses of music and dance with a demonstration/performance of them for symposium participants).

 

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