American Indians Grace the Newest US Buck

By Peter Rexford

June 26, 2014 5 min read

There's something comforting about things being constant. Take summertime. For many, that means camp and vacations. Within those there is another constant — American Indians.

Think about it. There isn't a place in the U.S. that wasn't once plentifully inhabited by Indians. Signs of their existence exist but often very subtly. Unlike current residents, any images they left were understated (versus today's graffiti) and their respect for natural resources, abundant.

Of course, Indian rituals and crafts are a staple of most summer camps. Kids get to learn how the natives survived and thrived for centuries before being forced from their lands. There are still a few areas where American Indians live and follow their tribal customs. Fortunately, in so many of the national parks, much of that lore and culture has been preserved.

A recent trip to Michigan reminded me of how indelible American Indians continue to be in everyday lives. Up there, countless streets, counties and lakes bear Indian names. The name "Michigan" itself is taken from a Chippewa word meaning "great water."

There's another American Indian constant that is a bit under the radar. Some collectors are aware of it, but most people aren't — the annual golden dollar coin created by the U.S. Mint. In preparation for switching from a paper dollar to a dollar coin, the Sacagawea golden dollar was created in 2000. Of course, they went away. Or did they?

For the last 14 years, the coins have been minted with the image of Sacagawea on the front. Six years ago, the government decided to remove the dollar coin from general circulation (assuming you could even find one) but continue making them for collectors. Then, in 2009, the Mint began to annually change the design on them. The first year, the coin showed an Indian woman planting corn. This was followed in 2010 with an allegorical design of the Great Law of Peace and then in 2011 with the Pilgrim-Wampanoag treaty.

Those coins were followed by the image of an Indian chief and his horse honoring "Trade Routes in the 17th Century" in 2012 and a howling wolf on the 2013 "Treaty With the Delawares" version.

The newly issued 2014 golden dollar coin may be one of the most compelling yet. The theme is "Native Hospitality," illustrated by a brave American Indian offering a peace pipe standing behind an Indian woman holding a basket of fish, corn and gourds. The upper-left quadrant shows a stylized image of the compass from the Lewis and Clark expedition pointing to the northwest, the area the team explored.

Because golden dollars don't freely circulate — except in some change machines in post offices or metro transit facilities — none of the above coins are likely to end up in your pocket change. That's unfortunate, given that the coins could generate interest in the Indian culture so ingrained in our lives.

The only way to acquire them is in rolls, bags or boxes directly from the U.S. Mint. Even though they don't circulate, they remain a most-popular coin. All of last year's bags and boxes of "Native American" golden dollars have since sold out. Rolls of 25 are still available, but the bulk supplies are long gone.

The Mint has just made the new 2014 versions of the "Native American" golden dollars available. Ordering options are rolls of 25, bags of 100 or boxes of 250 coins struck at either the Philadelphia or Denver Mints. Single-proof versions of the coins can also be found in the annual sets. More information and ordering are available on the Mint's website: www.USMint.gov.

From the Indian penny to the Buffalo nickel, and many other gold and silver coins, Native Americans have been a staple of our coinage. These contemporary offerings are excellent additions to that legacy, particularly in the summer and fall when we think of them most.

Editor's Note: A JPEG visual of the reverse of the 2014 Native American golden dollar coin has been sent with this column.

To find out more about Peter Rexford and features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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