Grizzly in the Mail and Other Adventures in American History by Tim Grove

Grizzly in the Mail and Other Adventures in American History by Tim Grove

Author:Tim Grove [Tim Grove]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: History
ISBN: 9780803249721
Publisher: UNP - Nebraska
Published: 2014-03-03T17:27:28+00:00


You Can’t Write My History

History is written by the winners, they say. But it is often the losers who care more about it.

—Carolyn Gilman

“You cannot write our story. You have no right.” An irate Indian woman had backed me into a corner. She was not yelling, but she was passionate. We were standing in a classroom on the University of Montana campus in Missoula. Our group consisted of teachers, Indian and non-Indian, from reservation schools in seven Western and Midwestern states, plus those of us who had planned the trip. The Center for Educational Technology in Indian America, an arm of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, had organized the seminar to kick off a project to encourage Indian students to research their tribe’s and community’s perspective on the Lewis and Clark expedition and to make the results available to the public. We were following a section of the Lewis and Clark trail in western Montana. We planners recognized that not every participant would have a positive impression of Lewis and Clark. How would they react? Would there be uncomfortable moments? There was a slight amount of trepidation that the workshop would fail.

An Introduction to Native Cultures

I came to the Lewis and Clark project with limited experience working with American Indians. While at the American History Museum I had worked on an online project about buffalo hide paintings, but I had not had significant contact with Native communities. When I joined the Lewis and Clark project I was quickly thrown into Native culture. I subscribed to the Indian Country Today weekly newspaper and soon began to interact with Native Americans or Indians or . . . Actually, the first big question many non-Indians ask is about proper terminology. On the politically correct East Coast, the term one most often hears is “Native American.” However, I soon learned that in the West the preferred term is “American Indian.” Ultimately, I came to understand that one should use a specific tribal name when known. On occasion I will have non-Indian people try to correct me or even ask me what term they should use . . . they think “Indian” is not a sensitive word. I usually point out that the Smithsonian museum devoted to Native cultures is called the National Museum of the American Indian, a name given it by the Native peoples themselves.

Including the Native perspective in the exhibition proved a challenge in part because of the unbalanced historical record. Today we know so much about the expedition because President Jefferson instructed Lewis and Clark to keep journals, and fortunately these journals have survived. The explorers documented their activities and observations on the expedition with attention to detail and have been called the “writingest explorers of their time.” Yet it is also important to remember that the men of the Corps of Discovery made observations through a very specific lens, a lens based on their experience as white men. Lewis and Clark looked through the eyes of men who had grown up in privileged families.


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