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ARTS Trunks: Cultural Encounters with Lewis and Clark

Introduction to Cultural Encounters with Lewis and Clark:

This educational resource has been designed to make students active participants in the teaching-learning process. By focusing on an historic event in the history of America - the Lewis and Clark Expedition - students are invited to take their own voyage of discovery and to share what they find out with others, through writing, drawing, acting, performing and presenting.

The theme of this outreach program - Cultural Encounters with Lewis and Clark - acts as a perfect vehicle with which to explore the exchange of cultures, the sharing of knowledge and the universal expression of what it means to be human.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition was not only one of America's greatest adventures, it was one of the nation's greatest leaps in learning. The renowned writer Stephen Ambrose refers to Fort Mandan as:

"The first research scholarship center west of the Mississippi."

Indeed, as historian Gerard Baker points out, it was hard to tell who was studying whom, especially during the winter-long stay at Fort Mandan. He writes:

"These were sophisticated Indians. French trappers and British traders had lived among them for decades. They knew about white men, and their products. They found the white man's ways were as delightful and as odd as the white man found their practices."

As a counterpoint to the successes of the expedition, paradoxes of war and peace clouded the picture. President Thomas Jefferson ordered Lewis and Clark to be friendly towards the Indians and to promote the notion of peace. Yet, they permitted John Shields, the Corps' blacksmith, to manufacture huge quantities of arrowheads and battle axes for Indian use in exchange for corn. They were arming Indians with war weapons at the same time they were trying to convince them to live in peace.

In retrospect, the way of life for American Indian peoples was irrevocably altered as a result of the Lewis and Clark expedition. As more and more immigrants started to migrate west they spread smallpox and cholera, diseases which the American Indians had developed no resistance against. Settlers also introduced the Indians to guns and alcohol. They frightened away the buffalo and other Indian sources of food. American Indians felt their space invaded and began to retaliate. This led to hostility, loss of life, loss of land and loss of identity.

Sample Objects:

The following are photographs of some of the objects you will find in the Cultural Encounters with Lewis and Clark Trunk. The objects were made by North Dakota artists whenever that was possible.

  • Jefferson Peace Medal. President Jefferson instructed Lewis and Clark to give these medals to American Indian chiefs as a sign of goodwill.
    Jefferson Peace medal
  • Willow Basket. Tan Diamond willow, red willows, and willows stripped to white are used to weave the basket. The frame is made from branches of the ash tree. Made by Rose and Francis Cree (Dunseith, North Dakota), who were recently awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
    Willow basket
  • Lakota Pictograph. This "story told with pictures" is of Sioux and Hidatsa men and women at a trading post. The paints were made from earth pigments and applied to a brain-tanned smoked young elk hide with brushes made from bones. Made by D. Joyce Kitson (Bismarck, North Dakota)
    Lakota pictograph
  • Violin and Bow. One member of the Corps of Discovery - Pierre Cruzatte - is remembered for his fiddle music throughout the trip. Made by Gordon Vaagen (Taylor, North Dakota)
    Violin and bow

Sample Activities:

The Cultural Encounters with Lewis and Clark Trunk contains four handbooks:

  • One "Theme Introduction" which contains context and other introductory material, and
  • Three "Activity Handbooks" - one for Kindergarten through fourth grade, one for grades 5 through 8, and one for grades 9 through 12. There is also an integrated activities section which can be merged into the studies of other subject areas, such as science, history, or physical education.

Each "Activity Handbook" has a number of student activities using various trunk objects and elements from the "Theme Introduction." The activities were written by artists and arts educators from North Dakota and Minnesota.

Some sample activities are included below:

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