My name is Rozina George. I’m honored and proud to be talking about Sacajawea, one of the most famous women in history. I’m a great, great, great, great niece of Sacajawea. I, like Sacajawea, I’m a Agaidika Shoshone. Originally I’m from Salmon, Idaho.
On today’s Turtle Island Storytellers, Rozina George tells of her great great great great aunt, Sacajawea, who was captured as a child, and then reunited with her family as a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Sacajawea was twelve years old in 1800, when her people were camped along the three forks of the Missouri River in their buffalo hunting territory when a band of Minnetaree Indians attacked them. They killed men, women and children. They captured all the female that were living and four boys. Sacajawea’s mother was killed, and Sacajawea was one of the children captured and made prisoner by the Minnetarees. Now we know them as the Hidatsas. Because of this atrocity in her life, she ended up in the annals of history.
It was in the Hidatsa village that Sacajawea was held a captive and eventually purchased by a French trapper trader, Toussaint Charbonneau. It was for four years that she was held a captive. And in the winter of 1804, she had the opportunity to come home. A group of white men were going to her country. They hired, they hired Toussaint Charbonneau as an interpreter and she had no choice but to go along. And now we know it was an opportunity for her to come home.
So it was on August 11th, 1805, these four men encountered Agaidika warrior, who was on a horse and he was dressed differently from the prior tribes they encountered. He had buckskin, and what was unique was that he had hair locks on his breech cloth.
So it was in August of 1805 that Sacajawea returned to her people with the Lewis and Clark expedition. She shared her cultural knowledge with Meriwether Lewis and three men that were proceeding ahead. She gave them advice on how to approach our people, the protocol you approach our people.
The first thing they did when they saw this warrior was to take a blanket and throw it up in the air three times. This meant “We’re not here to harm you.” They started approaching him and showing him gifts, and all Native tribes do that gift giving.
During this time when Lewis and Clark were coming through, we were doing a transition from our salmon hunting to our buffalo hunting in present-day Montana we had to be very careful. Not only would we be there in that buffalo hunting territory. So would be the Blackfeet and the Hidatsas, other tribes, our traditional enemies. They were out there too, and they were willing to attack for our horses. And so during this time period, we would ally with the Flatheads, and sometimes the Nez Perces, to protect ourselves. And so that’s why this scout, this Agaidika warrior, was sent ahead to do reconnaissance.
And eventually these four men proceeded on. They made contact with an elder woman and a young girl. They were on the ground digging. They were out getting roots. The young woman saw them and ran away.
And so what this elder did was, she got on her knees and bowed down. And then the young girl stayed with her and was willing to suffer the consequences with her grandma. So she bowed down, put her arms around her grandmother and was waiting for what was more than likely their demise. And instead what Lewis did was take this elder by the hand, pick her up, and gave her gifts.
And then the next thing he did that was very important, very significant, was putting the sacred paint of our people on the elder’s face, it’s a red, sacred red paint. It was put on her forehead, on the side of her face, across her cheeks. I asked an elder what this meant and they told me it that it meant that person that was doing that was blessing that person. And so that was noted in the journals.
The chief, the leader of the people, with about sixty men, came riding up and the elder woman, the young woman, were able to tell them what happened, and most importantly was what they did to them, the sacred paint ceremony. You know, our people have never seen white men. Never.
Who were they? Spirit beings sent? Where are they from? So it was something unusual for them, for our people to encounter these people that were giving them items that they have never seen. And this prevented the demise of these four men. These guys would have been killed immediately had they not known what to do.
And so eventually, they had a pipe ceremony. And the pipe ceremony is also sacred. With pipe ceremonies you’re determining if these people, you’re testing their integrity, and they’re committing their words to all the different beings of the mother earth. In the journals they mention a two feet circle they made on the floor of the lodge, and in the center they built a fire. And when they pray, our people pray to the four directions with the pipe, and then they put the pipe towards the mother earth and up to the heavens, praying to the creator.
What Lewis was doing when he was participating in the ceremony he was committing himself, it was a vow. They immediately put up a lodge when they encountered him. It is because they wanted to see this man’s integrity, his heart, his trustworthiness, to see if he was a worthy man. He was committing himself not only to these people, but to all the spirit beings and to the higher creator, and then to mother earth. And we know Lewis didn’t understand what he was getting himself into.
That ceremony was done and right afterwards on August 17th, 1805, Sacajawea was reunited with her people. In Montana across from Lemhi pass, where present-day Clark’s reservoir is, this is where Sacajawea encountered her people. And this is what Clark had to say when she saw her people, “She danced for a joyful sight.”
She couldn’t speak English. So how she communicated to him was through sign, Indian sign language. She said, “I am a Agaidika Shoshone.“ And she said, “This is my nation.” And she said, “These are my people.”
When she was walking on Mother Earth, she was able to identify who she was. And then she was reunited with a childhood friend that escaped from the Minnatarees, or the Hidatsas, and came back to her people. And on that same day, she was reunited with her brother.
And this was documented in the journals too. It was written by Lewis. And this is what he had to say:
“Shortly after Captain Clark arrived with interpreter Charbonneau and Indian woman, who proved to be the sister of the chief, proved to be the brother of Sacajawea.”
And that’s the lineage that I come through.
Special thanks to Sacajawea’s descendent, Rozina George, who recently helped to initiate the Sacajawea interpretive, cultural and education center in Salmon, Idaho.