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By Curt Woodward, Published October 23 2004

'Circle of Cultures' begins

BISMARCK -- A commemoration of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's push to the Pacific began here Friday with an embrace of the tribes that sheltered the explorers and protests from American Indians who say the expedition helped destroy their cultures.

The 10-day "Circle of Cultures" gathering is the first of two national "signature" events planned in North Dakota to mark Lewis and Clark's history-making journey across the American West.

The Corps of Discovery spent the winter of 1804-05 with Mandan Indians in what is now North Dakota. That leg of their journey marked the expedition's first foray into a largely unfamiliar landscape.

"Every trail they walked, every corner they turned was something new," Gov. John Hoeven said during the opening ceremony at the University of Mary south of Bismarck.

But the explorers' journey also heralded a wave of settlement that destroye d centuries of Indian culture, protesters said.

More than 30 activists accompanied by a drum circle and traditional singers stood in biting wind and light rain outside the opening ceremony on Friday.

The protesters, using a public address amplifier, called on a group of re-enactors to abandon their effort to retrace Lewis and Clark's route to the Pacific Ocean.

"To us, it's a slap in the face," said Vic Camp, a college student from South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

"We do not need Lewis and Clark to travel through here again and remind us of what happened," he said.

Members of the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles, Mo., encountered the protesters on their trip through South Dakota last month. Camp said the protest group plans to follow the re-enactors "until they get out of our treaty territory."

Richard Prestholdt of Bridgewater, N.J., said he and other re-enactors respect the protesters' point of view.

The group has worked with Indian tribes all along the trail, and flies tribal flags on their replica keelboat when they pass through Indian Country, he said.

"Obviously, this expedition was the beginning of the decline of the American Indian people," Prestholdt said. "Hopefully, one thing we will get out of it is some new dialogue."

Indian culture is a major focus of the North Dakota event, which features artists and performers, presentations by historians and a computer-generated re-creation of the On-A-Slant Village at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.

The $1.1 million Bismarck event runs through Oct. 31 at the university, which sits on a prairie bluff overlooking a tree-lined stretch of the Missouri River. Organizers expect about 30,000 people. Another signature event is scheduled in New Town in August 2006.

North Dakota officials are betting that the attention gained from the bicentennial will jump-start the state's tourism industry. One of the early visitors Friday was Prince Ferdinand von Bismarck, a great-grandson of German "Iron Chancellor" Otto von Bismarck, for whom the city is named.

Sakakawea, the young Indian woman who was a guide and translator for the original explorers, joined their group in what is now North Dakota, historians say.

Her legend is seen as key to the state's promotion efforts. Hoeven said the state has spent more than $8 million to improve tourism in the past four years.

People who came to the university campus Friday wandered between re-creations of period military encampments and Indian earth lodges, where buffalo robes and deer skins surrounded stone-lined fire pits dug into the ground.

Brad and Karen Rohde of Garrison said they were impressed after going through the stripped-log tunnel leading out of the hulking structure.

"They were pretty smart to figure out how to build them that way," Karen Rohde said.

David Anderson, assistant secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs, said the people who welcomed Lewis and Clark 200 years ago had advanced trade networks, agricultural practices and diplomatic relations.

"What all of us can learn from Lewis and Clark's and Sakakawea's saga is how strongly tribal nations can contribute," he said.