Duck Duck Book

37 – salish people and the lewis and clark
10.1.2006, 2:08 pm
Filed under: history & geography

The Salish people and the Lewis and Clark Expedition / Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee and Elders Cultural Advisory Council, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. 
Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, c2005.
[MCL call number: 970.1 S167 2005; two copies, no holds]

In the last few years, there has been a lot of fuss about Lewis and Clark, surrounding the 200th anniversary of their famous expedition from St. Louis to the mouth of the Columbia River.  Here in Oregon, we have no doubt had a greater portion of Lewis and Clark excitement than other places, because the story has been taught here as one of local relevance for many generations. 

Unsurprisingly, the story taught to Oregon schoolchildren, and the one being commemorated now as a part of the Corps of Discovery’s 200th anniversary is almost entirely told from the perspective of the expedition’s members and their bosses in the White House, with very little consideration given to the point of view of the people whom Lewis, Clark, and their colleagues encountered in their journey. 

The great- great-grandparents of the Salish people of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes met Lewis and Clark and their expedition in September, 1805, and in this book elders and members of the tribe share their community’s history, memories, and analysis of their encounter with Lewis and Clark’s expedition.  The book opens with an account of tribal history that places the events of September 1805 into a larger context.  There are many elements to this history — tribal origin stories, elders’ accounting of Salish dealings with their Indian neighbors over many centuries and their analysis of Salish relations with the United States government, and a history of the Bitterroot Valley and Salish-Pend d’Oreille place names in the valley. 

The second section of the book is devoted to testimony, stories, and histories of Salish interactions with Lewis and Clark — including several stories of serious inter-cultural misunderstanding.  For example, Salish people assumed that the strangers were in mourning because their hair was cut short.  They thought the white people must be suffering from cold, because their skin was so pink.  And when the expedition members were offered gifts of food and robes to sit on, they refused the food and threw the robes over their shoulders, both of which were interpreted as gestures of rudeness and insult.  This section also discusses Salish history after 1805, with an overview of how the Salish and other Indian people dealt with the changes that came with white settlement of Montana, the General Allotment Act of 1887 (which opened tribal and reservation lands to white settlement), and the urbanization of the Missoula area.

The combination of brief essays written by modern tribal historians, oral history accounts and traditional stories from elders and other tribal members, documentary sources, and interpretive and documentary illustrations (chiefly paintings and photographs) works nicely to make The Salish People an intellectual resource as well as an enjoyable, accessible read.

Biographies of tribal elders and contributors, a guide to written  Salish, and a list of archival sources are appended to the main text, and are followed by a bibliography and index. 


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