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by Rozina George
(used here with permission)

Sacajawea is the epitome of a Native American woman. It was her spirituality, her connection, and teaching about our mother earth that helped her to persevere on the arduous journey. She is a part of our Lemhi Shoshone history and in a broader sense, Native American and United States history. In the past, some Native Americans have suggested that she was a traitor to all Indian people, not knowing Sacajawea’s true involvement in the expedition. Basically, Sacajawea’s involvement with the Lewis and Clark Expedition was not of her own choice but the choice of others. A universal Native American teaching is to help others who are in need, and that is what she did on the expedition. Furthermore, those who are familiar with the journals of the expedition know that other Native people such as the Mandans and Nez Perce were very instrumental in assisting the expedition. In fact the expedition stayed with or near these tribes for several months between 1804-1806. Sacajawea is unique among Native American heroes. She is not only unique because she is a woman, but she acted as ambassador and diplomat, bridging the relation between the Indian and non-Indian worlds. As we enter into the millennium, the nation and world have accepted Sacajawea as the symbol of unity and harmony because she was an individual who was willing to share her culture and knowledge to perpetuate peace.

Sacajawea’s direct familial descendants and her people the Lemhi Shoshone know that the Lewis and Clark Journals indicate that Sacajawea remained true to her Lemhi Shoshone culture. The journals verify that Sacajawea retained the essential elements of her cultural identity including Lemhi Shoshone Language, history, and knowledge of the Lemhi medicinal/food plants, customs, and recognition of the landmarks of her homeland. She did not forget the edible plants and roots that Lemhi Shoshone women collected to eat. She used her inherited cultural knowledge to sustain her child and others. She remembered the natural medicinal remedies used by her people and how and when to collect them. These remembrances of her Lemhi Shoshone childhood played a very important part in the survival of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

A rigorous ordeal, Sacajawea carried her infant son Jean Baptiste (Pompy) in a traditional cradleboard (the expedition members use the word “bier,” implying a wood-framed device) and that she always identified herself, even while with Lewis and Clark, as an Agaidika now known as the Lemhi Shoshone Tribe. She would have used red paint down the part of her hair, across her fore head and down onto her uppercheeks as means of identification to other tribes. These markings meant that she was Lemhi Shoshone and this identification provided the means of spiritual protection for her and for whomever had on their person the be-shaw, such as Lewis. Other tribes that she and the expedition came into contact with would immediately recognized these markings as Lemhi Shoshone. Sacajawea presumably told Lewis and Clark that the red paint indicated peace. On August 13, 1805, Lewis wrote: “I now painted their (Shoshone) tawny cheeks with some vermillion which with this nation is emblematic of peace.”

When Sacajawea was twelve years old she was captured by the Minnetarees or Hidatsa near present day Three Forks, Montana. She was taken from her family and her people. The following is an excerpt from Meriwether Lewis’s journal in which he documented Sacajawea’s account of her capture. Sunday July 28, 1805. “Our present camp is precisely on the spot that the Snake Indians were encamped at the time of the Minnetares of Knife R. came sight of them five years since. from hence they retreated about three miles up Jeffersons river and concealed themselves in the woods, the Minnetares pursued, attacked them, killed 4 men 4 women a number of boys and mad[e] prisoners of all the females and four boys. Sah-cah-gar-we-ah (o[u]r) Indian woman was one of the female prisoners taken at that time…” Expedition member Ordway corroborates the story. His journal entry reads, "She tells us that she was taken in middle of the River as she was crossing at a shole place to make hir ascape.” They clearly record that she had been captured by the Hidatsa.

A careful reading of the journals indicates that Sacajawea’s collection of root and berries, which likely prevented malnutrition, can be attributed to Shoshone culture. On October 30, 1805, Clark noted that “Squar found and brought me a bush Something like the Current, which she Said bore a delicious froot and that great quantities grew on the Rocky Mountain.” Over and over, Clark records that Sacajawea collected foods “which the shoshone Eat” (June 25, 1806) and which were native to her mountain homelands. Her captors, the Hidatsa, (Sacajawea was among these people a total of seven years) were horticulturists--they grew their food and so may have been less apt than more nomadic tribes to gather wild foods.

The Lemhi Shoshone call her Sacajawea. It is derived from the Shoshone word for her name, Saca tzah we yaa. In his Cash Book, William Clark spells Sacajawea with a “J”. Also, William Clark and Private George Shannon explained to Nicholas Biddle (Published the first Lewis and Clark Journals in 1814) about the pronunciation of her name and how the tz sounds more like a “j”. What better authority on the pronunciation of her name than Clark and Shannon who traveled with her and constantly heard the pronunciation of her name. We do not believe it is a Minnetaree (Hidatsa) word for her name. Sacajawea was a Lemhi Shoshone not a Hidatsa. Her people the Lemhi Shoshone honor her freedom and will continue using the name Sacajawea. Most Shoshone elders conclude that her name is a Shoshone word: Saca tzah we yaa which means burden.

There are many controversies that surround Sacajawea including what tribe she was, when she died, where she is buried, and even what her name means and how it should be pronounced. While most of what we know about the life of Sacajawea is revealed in the journals of expedition members, there are also aspects of her life which are clarified through an understanding of our Lemhi culture and oral traditions. After years of research and compilation by historians of materials written by expedition members, no documents have been discovered stating that Sacajawea was Comanche, Ute, Hidatsa or whatever other tribes compete in claiming her as their member. When Lewis and Clark met Sacajawea. Clark wrote this about the encounter: November 4th, 1804, “a french man by Name Chabonah, who speaks the Big Belly (Gros Ventre) language visit us, he wished to hire and informed us his 2 squars were snake (Shoshone) Indians, we enga(ge) him to go on with us and take one his wives to interpret the Snake language…” Charbonneau did not say that he had two Minnataree (Hidatsa) women and that they were familiar with the Snake language.

Later in the Expedition, Lewis and Clark again clearly establish that Sacajawea’s nation lay far West of the Hidatsa in the Agaidika (salmon-eater Shoshone) territory. “The Indian woman recognize the point of a high plain to our right which she informed us was not very distant from the summer retreat of her nation on a river beyond the mountains which runs to the west. this hill she says her nation calls the beaver’s head from a conceived resemblance of its figure to head of that animal…:”Lewis: Thursday, August 8th, 1805. Beaverhead Rock is located near present day Dillion, Montana and the river beyond the mountains is the Salmon (Agai pah) River, Idaho.

As a Lemhi Shoshone, directly related to Sacajawea through her parents and brother Cameahwait, I (the author) have an irrefutable kinship relation to her. I can verify my relationship to her through historical documents and oral history that corroborate with expedition members’ journals. Lewis journal verifies the relationship between Sacajawea and Chief Cameahwait as brother and sister. On Saturday, August 17th, 1805, he writes, “Shortly after Capt Clark arrived with Interpreter Charbono, and Indian woman, who proved to be a sister of the Chief.” The last chief of the Lemhis Chief Tendoy, was the nephew of Sacajawea and the son of Cameahwait.

Tribal elders explain that Tendoy always said that Sacajawea was his “baha,”--his father’s sister. Tendoy was born around 1834, not long before his father Cameahwait was killed in battle with the Blackfeet at Bloody Dick Creek in 1840. Both Cameahwait and Tendoy are buried in the Lemhi Valley.

But what of the other debates, which concern how old Sacajawea, was when she died and where she is buried? Most of these misperceptions were started by non-Indians. The Lemhi Shoshone people know that Sacajawea died young. We accept the journal accounts of Missouri River traders and travelers who document that she died in 1812 at Fort Manuel. William Clark also writes on the cover of his 1825-1828 Cash Book (not discovered until 1955) “Sa car jaw au Dead”. We have oral history about Sacajawea’s arrival to her people with the whitemen but none about her return to her homeland. We do not accept the death date of 1884, and do not believe that the woman buried on the Wind River Reservation in Fort Washakie, Wyoming is Sacajawea. Grace Raymond Hebard, a non-Indian professor of political science at the University of Wyoming, was partly responsible for this particular error. Her 1933 treatise, Sacajawea was both inaccurate and poorly researched, but it became the most available library reference on the topic. It was Hebard, not Wind River Shoshone, who created the story of an aged Sacajawea living out her life in Wyoming.

It is important to remember the verifiable facts surrounding this controversy. First, the only information that identifies the old woman who was buried at Wind River as Sacajawea came later than her burial in 1884. The Shoshone and Bannock Agency (Wyoming Territory) census rolls of the Wind River Reservation of 1877 record an individual known as “Bazil’s Mother”. It is said that others called her Porivo, which is said to translate as “chief woman”. Lemhi Shoshone fluent in our language state Porivo does not mean “chief woman” thus eroding the already tentative connection between an aged Sacajawea and “Bazil’s Mother”.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the Bazil who lived and is buried on the Wind River Shoshone Reservation is not Sacajawea’s nephew. Through her writings Grace Hebard ascribed Bazil as Shoogan (Cooshagan). Shoogan (Cooshagan) was a Lemhi. He was present in Bannock City, Montana in 1863 with Chief Snag and War Chief Tendoy, when Chief Snag was shot and killed by vigilantes. Following the death of his uncle, Tendoy became chief of the Lemhis (Agaidika and Tu-coo-dika).

Remember, it was 1904 when the original Lewis and Clark journals edited by

Reuben G. Thwaites was available to the public in time for the Centennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. And it was in 1905 that the woman’s suffrage movement used Sacajawea as its symbol. By then, Sacajawea was in vogue. Now, if the Reverend Roberts (who is the individual who said he buried Sacajawea in Wyoming in 1884) really believed that this woman, Porivo was Sacajawea, why didn’t he communicate this prior to Hebard’s investigations

which began nearly twenty years later? In 1904 Sacajawea’s nephew, Chief Tendoy, was still alive and residing on the Fort Lemhi Reservation in central Idaho near Salmon, Idaho. If he had been questioned at this time, so much of the misinformation which surround the life of Sacajawea could have been avoided.

Third, most of the misinformation began with books and articles written in the early 1900’s. We cannot condemn the authors for their mistakes, but it is important that the errors are corrected. We must realize that the vast amount of research available today had not yet been compiled at that time. The scholarship on Lewis, Clark, and Sacajawea has grown immensely over the past century. If these authors had done their research more thoroughly, they would have realized that Sacajwea’s people were the Lemhi Shoshone, and that at the time we were living at or near Salmon, Idaho. In 1907, our tribe was forcibly removed from the Salmon River (Agai pah) and Lemhi Valley to the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. (The United States government broke the agreement to the Act of 1880 and forced our removal). Through research of and traditional knowledge about my Lemhi history, I (author) know that none of my people were removed to the Fort Washakie area with the Eastern or Wind River Shoshone people. Also some of the Agaidikas fled into the mountains of the Salmon River area. Chief Tendoy would have been in his 70’s in 1907. It is unfortunate that researcher never asked him in depth questions regarding his prestigious lineage.

Fourth, when Charles Eastman (a Dakota Indian physician) was hired in the 1920’s by the United State government to research the question of Sacajawea’s heritage and death date, he also went to the wrong place! He should have gone to Idaho, to the place where the Lewis and Clark journals state that Sacajawea’s people lived, and not to Fort Washakie and the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. There he was told that an old woman, who some thought might have been an aged Sacajawea, was buried in 1884. His research only added to the growing amount of misinformation about Sacajawea. Eastman should have gone to Salmon, Idaho where some of Tendoy’s children and remnants of the Lemhi Shoshone people lived to learn the truth about Sacajawea. Instead he went to the Eastern Shoshone on the Wind River Reservation. There he encountered the Reverend Roberts who by this time was proclaiming that the old woman he

buried in 1884, “Bazil’s mother,” was indeed Sacajawea. The desire to forge a

relationship or connection to this now famous woman is responsible for the many false claims that are currently in vogue.

There are important questions raised by Sacajawea’s people, the Lemhi Shoshone. These should be seriously considered by historians and other interested individuals. They include:

If Sacajawea lived past 1812 and returned “home,” why did she go to Wyoming rather than Idaho? None of her family was at Wind River in Wyoming. Her brother, Cameahwait, was the leader of the Agaidika or Lemhi Shoshones, and they were in Idaho. Why not go to where you know your people are rather than guess where they might have been sent? If Sacajawea was Hidatsa, as some Hidatsa claim, then why did she not marry a member of the Hidatsa tribe, rather than be married or sold to a French Canadian trapper and trader, Toussaint Charbonneau?

Additionally, why would she wander off to the Comanches? Their culture was and is distinct from Lemhi culture. We do not understand why anyone thinks she would do that. This is one thing that the non-Indian cannot comprehend. (We are like the salmon; we know our place of birth and we know how to return.) The only true descendants of Sacajawea are related through her biological brother Cameahwait.

Her people understand that her knowledge of her homeland was accurate. She knew that if she followed the rivers back west, that she would eventually reach her people. In our culture, from birth on, you are taught everything about mother earth; you are taught about the Creator. Sacajawea’s people were knowledgeable about the food provided for us by So go beah (mother earth), and Sacajawea knew about the medicinal plants that help in our healing. Sacajawea knew her homeland (da veah). She knew it! Lewis and Clark both document this fact. Clark documents how excited she was to be home with her people again. August 17 Satturday 1805 “The Interpreter & Squar who were before me at Some distance danced for joyful sight, and She make signs to me that they were her nation…” “the meeting of those people was effecting, particular between Sah cah gar we ah and an Indian woman, who had been taken prisoner at the same time with her and who, had afterwards escaped from the Minnetares and rejoined her nation…”

In conclusion, we believe that Sacajawea retained her allegiance to her Lemhi Shoshone people. In spite of being captured by the Hidatsa at an early age, Sacajawea remained true to her culture and the completion of the arduous journey of the Lewis and Clark Expedition rests on this Lemhi Shoshone teen-ager’s cultural knowledge, courage and fortitude. After 200 years, the United States government should recognize and honor Sacajawea’s ancestry and acknowledge her true history and culture.

Background: From photo of Lemhi Pass area by Elaine Mason (for Beaverhead County).