WASHINGTON – An American Indian man,wearing a long dress of white suede and a large feather headdress walked around the Capitol's rotunda Thursday,a woven bundle of smoldering grass in his hand.
It was the ceremonial end to the induction of a bronze statue of Sakakawea,Lewis and Clark's guide west across North America,but the beginning of her tenure in the U.S. Capitol.
The statue is North Dakota's second to be admitted into the Capitol. Each state is allowed two. All but two states,New Mexico and Nevada,have filled their spots. North Dakota’s other statue depicts John Burke,U.S. treasurer under Woodrow Wilson.
Rep. Earl Pomeroy,D-N.D.,said he was pleased to have the statue included as a symbol of his state because Sakakawea,commonly known as Sacajawea,was an “advocate,a bringer of peace” in her legendary travels with Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
“We know this statue will stand the test of time,because it already has,” he said.
The 8-foot bronze statue is a replica of one that has stood outside of North Dakota's state capitol in Bismarck since 1910. It depicts Sakakawea with her infant son,Jean-Baptiste,strapped to her back. It was privately funded.
North Dakota's two senators,Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan,both Democrats,spoke at the event,as did Gov. John Hoeven,R,Speaker Dennis Hastert,R-Ill.,and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist,R-Tenn.
More than 300 people attended,including at least 40 members from three North Dakota tribes,the Mandan,Hidatsa and Arikara.
The chairman of the National Congress of American Indians,Tex Hall,sat on the dais,wearing a long headdress. He praised Sakakawea as a guide,a translator and a diplomat.
“Without Sakakawea,there would not have been an expedition. Lewis and Clark would not have happened. It would not have been a success,” he said.
Dorgan agreed Sakakawea was essential.
“The Lewis and Clark expedition would not have succeeded because men simply won't stop to ask for directions,” he joked.
House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi,D-Calif.,said the statue was important because most statues in the Capitol are of men. Only six statues depict women,and Sakakawea’s is the first of a minority woman.
“She earned her place in history,and today,she assumes her rightful place in the Capitol,” Pelosi said.
Members of the three affiliated tribes kicked off the ceremony with what Rosemarie Mandan,one of the tribal dancers,called a victory dance.
Mandan,dressed in a skirt made of ribbons,soft leather shoes and a decorative collar made of shells and adorned with colorful beads,said the statue will help keep American Indian cultures alive and promote education about American Indian issues.
The statue project has taken more than six years.
Joanne Freeland,past president of the General Federation of Women's Clubs of North Dakota,said she was acting president when the initiative started.
“It's so beautiful and meaningful in so many ways,” she said after the ceremony. “It recognizes the contributions women have made and Sakakawea's courage,her inventiveness and her ability.”
Edward Hall,national coordinator for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial in the Bureau of Indian Affairs,said the event was historic.
“It is incredibly important in this day and age to understand one more time the role of Native American people,” he said. “I'm excited that people will see the statue and inquire about Sakakawea and about our people.”