acajawea never learned to read or write, never held a public office, never made a significant discovery. Countless Americans have grown up believing she was the Indian guide who led Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Ocean, when in fact she wasn´t a guide at all.
Two centuries later, her story is taught to every American child. Historians and Indian tribes wrangle over the spelling, pronunciation and meaning of her name. They disagree on her tribal loyalties, her importance to the Lewis and Clark expedition, her life after the expedition and when and where she died.
Sacajawea´s story has been told many times, in many ways. This is her story as told by her tribe - the Lemhi Shoshoni of Idaho. Other sources were consulted only when necessary to bridge gaps in the tribe´s oral history, and information obtained in this way was used only when it didn´t conflict with their history.
Out of respect for her people, their preferred spelling of her name is used throughout.
For a person who has been called one of the most famous women in American history, the absence of concrete information about Sacajawea is remarkable.
She was never sketched or painted, or if so the likenesses were lost. Though her "image" has graced everything from stamps to statues, no one really knows what she looked like.
A monument in Idaho´s Lemhi Valley denotes her birthplace, but no one knows whether the location of the monument is within miles of being accurate.
The best reporting done on her during her lifetime is contained in the journals of Lewis and Clark, and they raise more questions than they answer.
Some of her tribe´s interpretations of her story differ from long-accepted facts of the story. They are presented as accurate in the sense that they reflect the oral history and opinions of the Lemhi people. And, like people everywhere, they have differences of opinion among themselves. This, then, is an amalgam of what they believe about their most famous ancestor.
The story of Sacajawea doesn´t - and shouldn´t - end with Sacajawea. It´s also the story of her tribe today.
As the nation commemorates the Lewis and Clark bicentennial with seemingly inexhaustible tributes to her, her people are living as an obscure and repressed minority on a desert reservation nothing like the beautiful mountains of their homeland. The woman who appears on the Sacajawea coin isn´t a Lemhi Shoshoni, and the tribe of the woman who contributed more than any other to the opening of the West isn´t recognized as a tribe by the federal government.
This is her story and theirs. The story of Sacajawea and her people - by her people.