Lewis and Clark now figure prominently at the beginning of nearly every U.S. history textbook. Even today, the word "discovery" pervades most Lewis and Clark materials, and it animates the tourist packages shuttling visitors to every point along the expedition's route. The expedition is still cast as the genesis of the United States as a transcontinental nation. This explains part of the powerful emotions surrounding the bicentennial, and the desire of many people to cast the expedition and its underlying purpose in the noblest light possible.
It also explains why many native voices are being drowned out in the celebratory din. When our elders speak, they do not disrespect Lewis and Clark. But they do raise basic points that differ from the wholly positive view of the expedition. The elders tell us, first of all, that this was and is our land, the place prepared for us by Coyote, the place where we have lived for a very long time. They tell us that we were and are a sovereign nation. They tell us that we were kind and generous to non-Indian visitors. And the elders tell us that the expedition was part of a long process of unprovoked invasion, the taking of our resources, the stripping of our rights of sovereignty and self-determination, the marginalization of our cultural ways. From the perspective of our elders, the expedition was less an innocent "Corps of Discovery" than a reconnaissance for invasion.
We know this will be a difficult message for some readers to hear. It cannot be squared with a blind celebration of Lewis and Clark. But we know that many people are more interested in understanding the expedition than in simply glorifying it. Many are concerned about the damage the continuing distortion of our past does to all of us, and especially the countless native children who are every day exposed to a false depiction of their own cultures and histories. Many people are interested in a more realistic assessment of American history, even if it is a less comfortable assessment. To reach that point, we must begin by listening to the voices that have until now been left out.
By looking at Lewis and Clark within this larger context, we hope this book will help open the national conversation on Lewis and Clark, and that it will provide some small contribution in helping other tribes have the opportunity to put their own voices forward. We would all benefit by learning from the unique perspective of each native nation, embedded in their own cultural and historical contexts. A larger collection of native narratives on Lewis and Clark would help bring us all to a deeper and richer understanding of the entirety of the expedition.