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Native American $1 Coins

The Program

Ever since the Golden Dollar was first made in 2000, an eagle has soared on the back of the coin.  Now, thanks to the Native American $1 Coin Program, there will be a new design there every year!

Image shows the front of a Native American $1 coin, with a portrait of Sacagawea carrying her baby on her back.
Image shows the edge of a Native American $1 coin, with its incused lettering.

Produced hand-in-hand with the Presidential $1 Coins, the Native American $1 Coins will continue for a number of years not yet specified.  The designs will honor Native Americans and their contributions to the growth of the United States.  The image of Sacagawea, the Shoshone who helped Lewis and Clark on their historic voyage of exploration, will remain on the front during the program.

On the back, a different image will appear each year to highlight Native Americans and their contributions.  These coins will use the same standard inscriptions, edge lettering, and metal content as the Presidential $1 Coins.

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2009:  Three Sisters of Agriculture

Coin image shows an American Indian woman sowing seed in a garden.

Agriculture has always been important in Native American cultures.  Without Native American fruits, nuts, and vegetables, the first groups of European colonists probably could not have survived.  Both through trade and by directly sharing information, American Indians helped provide the food that the early colonists needed.  What’s more, vegetables native to the New World were soon brought to Europe and became common there.

Native Americans practiced gardening techniques that are still part of agriculture today, such as rotating crops, cross-breeding plants, developing watering methods, and companion planting.  Three Sisters agriculture is a good example of companion planting, where more than one type of plant is grown in an area.

In Three Sisters agriculture, three particular crops are grown together:  corn, beans, and squash.  This technique probably began in Mexico, where maize was developed as corn.

In this planting relationship, the corn stalks support the bean vines.  The beans add nitrogen to the soil, which feeds the corn.  Squash vines grow along the ground, with large leaves that shade the ground, keeping it from drying out and discouraging the growth of weeds, which would steal nutrients from all the plants.

These plants don’t compete for nutrients and space.  In fact, the corn, beans, and squash can actually produce more fruit when grown together than they can separately.  That’s what makes them such good companions!

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2010:  Great Law of Peace

Image shows the back of the 2010 Native American $1 Coin.

The theme for the 2010 Native American $1 Coin is "government."   One example of Native American government that helped form our nation is a certain peace treaty that early colonists found interesting enough to write home about.

Before Columbus first sailed to America, five Native American nations formed the Haudenosaunee Confederation, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy.   According to legend, the five tribes, which had similar languages, had often been at war with one another.   The Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca lived in what is today upstate New York.

The confederation was founded by two men.   One was called "Peacemaker" and the other was an Onondaga named Hiawatha.   They got the tribes to literally "bury the hatchet" under a pine tree.   The Great Law of Peace is symbolized in the Great Tree of Peace.   You can find out more about that story in the January 2010 Coin of the Month.

The Great Law of Peace is recorded on an ancient beaded belt known as the Hiawatha Belt.   The Great White Pine, in the center of the chain, represents the Onondaga nation and the treaty itself.   The four rectangles represent the other four tribes.   The bundle of 5 arrows symbolizes strength in unity.

Colonists saw in the Haudenosaunee a successful way to rule nations without kings or queens, like the confederacies that ancient Greek writers had written about.

Some early explorers and missionaries in the New World wrote about equality and democratic self-government among some Native Americans.   These writings reached Europe and sparked ideas for European thinkers like Sir Thomas More, Montaigne, and John Locke.

So the way some Native American tribes governed themselves was an example of democratic government for our new nation.   The White Pine tree with an eagle sitting on it, a Native American symbol of the Great Law of Peace, was adopted by colonists during the American Revolution for their own cause of democracy.

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2011:  Wampanoag Treaty of 1621

Image shows the back of the 2011 Native American $1 Coin.

Within some Native American cultures, the ability to make peace was as highly prized as leadership in war.  Peace talks were often handled by a separate peace chief. For centuries, tribes created alliances with each other that spanned hundreds of miles.

In the spring of 1621, Ousamequin, the Massasoit (a title meaning head chief) of the Wampanoag Indians, made a treaty with the English who settled at Patuxet (in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts). 

The main terms of the treaty:  the Wampanoag promised to defend the Plymouth settlers against hostile tribes. The settlers promised to step in if the Wampanoag were attacked. The full terms are recorded in William Bradford's "History of Plimoth Plantation."

The 2011 Native American $1 Coin design features two hands exchanging a peace pipe, a symbol of a peace agreement between two groups. In this case, the groups were the Wampanoag Indians and the settlers of Plymouth Colony. Historians doubt that the settlers could have survived without the Plymouth/Wampanoag alliance.

Three Wampanoag men, who represented Ousamequin, spent much time with the settlers.  Tisquantum (also known as Squanto),  Samoset, and Hobbamack gave the settlers invaluable tips on survival. The Plymouth settlers honored the treaty later that summer by coming to Ousamequin's rescue when they thought he had been captured by enemies. The Wampanoag treaty lasted more than 50 years.

In mid-October 1621, 90 of the Wampanoag took part in a harvest feast. The feast at Plymouth lasted for three days and, 220 years later, inspired the legend of the first Thanksgiving.

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2012:  Trade Routes in the 17th Century

Image shows the 2012 Native American $1 Coin reverse.

Native Americans have traded with one another for hundreds of years, creating paths through the wilderness along the way.  Their trade routes played a major part in the growth of this nation.

Native American trails are honored in the theme for the 2012 Native American $1 Coin, "Trade Routes in the 17th Century."  The theme is symbolized on this year's $1 Coin by a horse, a Native American man, and horses running in the background.

European goods had traveled along Native American trade routes many years before Europeans themselves were ready to leave Eastern cities and travel west.  When early European traders followed these routes, they were often led by Native American guides and traders who knew them all their lives.

These same routes became the path to the exploration, settlement, and economic development of the nation.  Parts of these trails guided the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1803.  When settlers moved westward, they also used these trails.

The Old Spanish Trail, for example, included parts of the Zuni Pueblo trade route in the Southwest and the Mojave bead route to the California coast.  The Old Snake Trade Route connected the pueblos of New Mexico with the Mandan villages in the Dakotas, then branched west to Oregon.  Eventually, the modern interstate highway system relied on these same paths through the countryside.

Of all the goods traded along these routes, the horse may be the most significant.  Horses from Mexico had been traded by 1600 and soon became one of the hottest items in trade.

By the time Lewis and Clark wintered with the Mandan in 1803, horses were already a solid part of Mandan life.  The horse had become the main way to travel and soon became the backbone of western ranching.  And what roads did these horses travel on?  Often they were the same unpaved trade routes that Native Americans had traveled for centuries.

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