It's 1803, and President Jefferson requests Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their Corps of Discovery to set forth to explore Over Yonder, which is short for Land West of the Louisiana Territory. L and C packed up their gear and headed out. What a scary venture; who knows what kind of clothes to pack when you're traveling into uncharted land—raincoats, shorts, furs?
Lewis and Clark's expedition was the first government survey of natural resources in the American West, and the remarkable feats that Lewis and Clark accomplished with their giddyupping troops have since inspired awe all over the country. Idahoans are lucky though, because Lewis and Clark's journey is not just a part of U.S. history; it is Idaho's history and heritage. And even though last year marked the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark's trek, we still get to celebrate.
Next week is Lewis and Clark Week and many folks in the community have organized several planned events to help learn us modernists about them pioneers.
One super exciting event is the wham-bam double header: a talk by poet John Trudell followed by a screening of the documentary The Journey of Sacagawea.
Sacagawea, known for her golden dollar fame, also happens to be the young woman who assisted Lewis and Clark on their two-year, 3,000-mile expedition to the Pacific Ocean. The French Canadian fur trader Toussaint Charbonneau received Sacagawea as a slave, and when Lewis and Clark enlisted Charbonneau on the voyage, Sacagawea was part of the package. Along their trip, Sacagawea led L and C and their band of merry men across the land, reading rivers and valleys, teaching the explorers to dig up onions, translating and asking for aid and representing the explorers as nonviolent toward natives. Without Sacagawea, Lewis and Clark would have had quite a bitch of a time.
The Idanha Film's documentary is touted as one of the best Lewis and Clark videos ever. The film, narrated by Native American singer-songwriter Rita Coolidge, was shot in five Northwest states and includes a dramatic recreation of Sacagawea's capture in which members of area tribes participated in the reenactment.
To construct the documentary, producer Lori Joyce delved into the rich oral history of the Shoshone, Mandan/Hidatsa and Nez Perce. The follow-through to craft a complete image of both sides of the journey includes accounts recalled in the Lewis and Clark journals. ("Dear Diary, My feet hurt and Meriwether refuses to stop. He's only acting like that because he thinks his 'determination' can change the name of the project. Bahahahaaa! Everyone knows famed explorers go alphabetical. Clark and Lewis.")
The documentary alone should offer fascinating insight to the story that's part history and part mystery, but the entire evening may very well be an enchanting time thanks to speaker John Trudell who will precede the viewing. Trudell is a nationally acclaimed performance poet, recording artist and Native American activist with roots in Idaho. That's the simple description of him. The fact is JT is a very interesting cat.
Trudell's work reflects the story of his extraordinary life. He grew up on a Sioux reservation—in fact, part of his story took place in Duck Valley, so he's kind of a local yokel. He also served in Vietnam and helped lead the American Indian Movement in the 1970s.
In February 1979, Trudell led a march in Washington D.C. to the FBI headquarters, spoke out on the FBI's war against Indians and burned an American flag. Early the next morning a fire "of suspicious origin" engulfed Trudell's home on Nevada's Shoshone-Paiute Reservation. The blaze killed his wife Tina, her mother, and John and Tina's three children. The Bureau of Indian Affairs officially declared the fire an accident and the FBI declined an investigation.
Devastation prompted withdrawal. In an effort to stay connected with reality and keep his sanity, Trudell began writing.
Local filmmaker Heather Rae has been working on a documentary film about Trudell for the last twelve years. She speaks about Trudell with marvel. "He'll analyze the political system in a unique way," she says. "He has a pretty amazing and eloquent perspective on the way things are."
Trudell has acquired an international fan base, most of whom are in awe of his ability to relate to listeners with an educational twinge. "He has an interesting philosophical base," Rae gushes. "You could say it's native, but it's more."
Rae's documentary will premiere in August at a new film festival in Boise called True West Cinema Fest. The festival, established by Boise artists, will also include a tribute to Sam Shepard, the contemporary American playwright, writer and actor.
In the 80s Trudell began recording a synthesis of poetry and Native music. Later he infused his work with electricity and blues, creating a novel niche that he admits most record companies aren't interested in. However, he's widely lauded by other noted artists and critics like Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne and the executive producer of his newest album Ms. Blood-in-a-Vile herself, Angelina Jolie. His newest work, Bone Days, is a wise, thoughtful and introspective piece of work. "Some people call me a poet," Trudell muses. "Others say I'm an activist. Some say my poetry and music is political. Others say it's about the spirit of my people. I don't buy into any of those labels. I may be a little bit of all those things, but I'm more than any of them."
John Trudell speaks before the screening of The Journey of Sacagawea, Wednesday, April 14, 7 p.m., adults $10-$27; high school students with ID $5, Egyptian Theater, 700 W. Main, Tickets available in advance at the Egyptian Theater.