Now the Senate and the House have acted on the "Native American $1 Coin Act," which would add scenes from our American Indian past to our current dollar coinage, and a linguistic battle has emerged that could well prevent the measure from becoming law.
At stake is the pronunciation and spelling of the name of Lewis and Clark's great heroine, Sacagawea (Senate bill) or Sakakawea (House version).
Introduced May 17 by Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mo., H.R. 2358 moved to rapid House passage June 12, and was received in the Senate the following day. S. 585 was introduced Feb. 14 of this year by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., with a goal of replacing "the designs on the obverse the so-called 'Sacagawea design'" with new ones honoring all Native Americans.
The bill that passed the Senate Aug. 3 was in the nature of a substitute offered by Banking Committee chair Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. The only real change was altering the spelling to Sacagawea, and then some tweaking amendments to conform the bill to the intent of the legislation.
Sacagawea was a Native American woman who served as an interpreter and guide for the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805 and 1806. As a child, she had been taken by members of the Hidatsa people and lived among them. Later she was sold to a French-Canadian trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau.
When the Lewis and Clark expedition wintered in the Hidatsa-Mandan Village (1804-1805), they hired Charbonneau as an interpreter for the trip west. Sacagawea, one of Charbonneau's wives, and her baby accompanied the expedition.
Her husband stated that her name meant "bird woman" and that in the Hidatsa language the name should be properly spelled "Tsakaka-wias." The name adopted by Wyoming and some other Western states is "Sacajawea," the Shoshone word meaning "boat-launcher." The name is entered in Clark's journal for April 7, 1805, as Sah-kah-gar-wea.
Regardless, the difference must be eliminated a conference committee may result or it may be handled more informally.
The legislation calls for multiple designs on the reverse of the $1 coins issued during each year. They are required to be emblematic of one important Native American or Native American contribution each year."
Some of the events contemplated in the bill "may depict individuals and events such as the creation of Cherokee written language; the Iroquois Confederacy; Wampanoag Chief Massasoit; the 'Pueblo Revolt'; Olympian Jim Thorpe; Ely S. Parker, a general on the staff of General Ulysses S. Grant and later head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs; and code talkers who served the United States Armed Forces during World War I and World War II."
One caveat: "in the case of a design depicting the contribution of an individual Native American to the development of the United States and the history of the United States, shall not depict the individual in a size such that the coin could be considered to be a 'two-headed' coin."
The motif would start in 2008, unless the legislation passes after Aug. 25 of this year, in which case the first newly designed coins would be designated 2009 in their year of mintage.