Meeting for the first time in Washington County since its creation, the Nebraska Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission recently discussed plans to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery.
Specifically, the meeting, which was Thursday, April 24, at the Fort Atkinson State Historical Park in Fort Calhoun, focused on plans to honor the Corps of Discovery's meeting with the Otoe-Missouria Indian tribe.
A "Signature Event" has been planned from July 31 to Aug. 3, 2004, to honor the "first council," which took place near what is now Fort Calhoun in August 1804.
Commission Chairman Ron Hull said an official schedule has not been completed, but current plans are to have daytime events in and around Fort Atkinson and the "council bluff" where the 1804 meeting took place.
Negotiations are underway to have the nighttime events at Elmwood Park in Omaha, utilizing the Shakespeare on the Green stage because of the additional parking and electrical hookups that are available at the site. If the commission is allowed to use the facility, shuttle buses would likely be used to transport visitors back and forth between Fort Atkinson and Elmwood Park.
Hull said the Nebraska Repertory Theatre has been commissioned to hire a playwright to write a 40-minute play focusing on the first council with professional actors expected to be in the cast.
Other events tentatively scheduled are a presentation by someone portraying Thomas Jefferson, who will explain the reason for the voyage and a portion of a piano concerto that is being composed for the event.
Jeanene Wehrbein, vice chairperson of the commission, said if Elmwood Park can be used, the commission should be able to save approximately $400,000 from the cost of planning the event.
"We started with a $1 million contract and we've been able to reduce our cost to about $600,000 simply because we are now able to use the Omaha facility," Wehrbein said.
Wehrbein added that many of the nighttime events will be such things as plays and concerts, but the daytime events will allow people to interact with the speakers and performers.
"We are far enough along now that we know what we want," Wehrbein said. "We also want families to be able to come and spend the day there. We want people to sit down and enjoy the performances while also being able to get up and wander around and examine the Native American culture areas and the Lewis and Clark encampment areas. We are hoping to have something different each day so that once people come in here, they stay for the entire four-day festival."
The commission is presently working with Vic Gutman and Associates Inc. of Omaha to finalize a schedule for the entire event.
"I think you'll like some of the ideas we have," Wehrbein said. "In another meeting or two, we should know what we are doing better but we are working on it. I know there won't be anyone who will be able to say they didn't have a chance to get close to the Native American aspect or the historical aspect of it, Fort Atkinson or the town or community. They will all be a part of it."
A leader of the Indian tribe whose ancestors were the first to encounter the Lewis and Clark expedition told a commission planning the 200th anniversary of that meeting, the tribe's input into the commemoration has been limited.
During a meeting at Fort Atkinson State Historical Park last Thursday, Sylvester Alley, an official representative of the Otoe-Missouria tribe, expressed concern to the Nebraska Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission that the tribe has limited input thus far in planning the event.
Alley said he signed what he called a memorandum of understanding on behalf of the tribe, but that was the only communication the tribe has had with the Lewis and Clark Commission. He said there has been no such document signed between the tribe and the Washington County Historical Association.
After several commission members said they would like representatives from the tribe to attend the event and have input in its planning stages, Alley said the tribe would likely be willing to participate, although he would prefer a solemn private ceremony of the ground before tourists arrive.
He said the tribe has expressed concern about the authenticity of Native American performers at similar events that have already occurred and cautioned the commission that some groups may not be as reputable as they appear.
"We have a lot of so-called Indians who are going across the country claiming to be this and that," Alley said. "A lot of these communities and groups are getting these organizations to come to their events and perform dances. These are not people who represent the tribe. A lot of them are also passing themselves off as Native Americans when they are not. Some even pass themselves off as Indian tribes when they are not. I'm just cautioning you that when we start having press conferences, you don't want to be embarrassed by some decision. This is why we of the Otoe-Missouria tribe are very cautious when we enter into any kind of agreement like this."
Alley said Washington County and Fort Calhoun should not underestimate the role the first council played in American history.
"You have a very unique thing here," Alley said. "The very first encounter with Native Americans on the expedition happened right here. You have something no one else can claim."