New study on how Lewis and Clark Trail sites portray American Indians

Released on 11/16/2004, at 2:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., November 16th, 2004 —

Historical markers play a key role in shaping social memory, according to Kevin S. Blake, associate professor of geography at Kansas State University. In the fall issue of Great Plains Quarterly, Blake examines the portrayal of American Indians at interpretive sites along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

The trail was established in 1978 under the administration of the National Park Service. Today travelers along the trail follow signs depicting Lewis and Clark pointing the way. However, what the signs do not tell is that Lewis and Clark traveled routes previously used by traders and Native Americans.

To Native American tribes in the Great Plains in 1804, the Lewis and Clark Expedition was just one more party of outsiders interested in trade, continuing an already well-established trend, Blake wrote. He said that without the aid and accommodation of plains Indians, the expedition would not have reached the Rocky Mountains. In the northern Plains, Lewis and Clark encountered not a wilderness, but the advanced agricultural societies of the Mandan and Hidatsa nations and their large earth lodge towns.

Blake said the Lewis and Clark historical markers, statues and monuments fall into four major thematic representations of American Indians: Councils of Power, Hostile Encounters, Good Neighbors, and Sacagawea Reinterpreted. In his examination, Blake describes in detail the Blackbird Scenic Overview in northeast Nebraska. Developed jointly by the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District and the Omaha Tribe, it provides a possible model for future sites because it is one of the few that includes an Indian perspective.

Many sites have not produced culturally aware interpretations of Native Americans in the context of Lewis and Clark, he said. "Signposts and statues have mixed messages, which seems a function of whether American Indians were consulted in the interpretation process," Blake said. "The inclusion of American Indian partners is a key in breaking the mold of the typical Native representations."

Great Plains Quarterly is edited by Charles Braithwaite and published by the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The journal may be purchased at local bookstores or by calling the center at (402) 472-3082.

CONTACTS: Kevin S. Blake, Assoc. Professor, Geography, Kansas State University, (785) 532-3406
Charles Braithwaite, Editor, Great Plains Quarterly, (4020 472-6178