Few Americans ever encountered a Sacagawea dollar coin in
circulation. But Native Americans took pride in the fact that
Sacagawea, the young Shoshone who was a guide and interpreter for the
Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific Northwest from 1803 to 1806,
was selected to grace the obverse of the circulating dollar coin
introduced in 2000.
Dismayed at the Sacagawea dollar's lack of circulation and disturbed
that it would be reduced to storage in Treasury vaults if the
Presidential dollars succeeded in capturing the public's attention,
the Native American lobby found a powerful ally in North Dakota Sen.
Byron L. Dorgan.
Sacagawea's statue is one of the primary attractions in Bismark,
N.D. Dorgan's constituents pressed the case that his state would
suffer economically due to a loss in tourism at various historic sites
associated with Sacagawea if the design were replaced by the
At first Dorgan negotiated an amendment to the Presidential dollar
coin authorization that required for every three Presidential dollars
struck, one Sacagawea dollar had to be made. However, concerned that
the Sacagawea dollar would become a collector-only series, he took a
page from Castle's playbook and drafted new legislation mandating a
new reverse design each year, believing that would lead to greater
circulation of the coin.
Titled the Native American $1 Coin Act, Dorgan's approach authorizes
a new reverse design annually beginning in 2009 for the Sacagawea
dollar and the placement of incused lettering on the coin's edge.
President Bush signed the measure (PL 110-82) into law Sept. 20, 2007.
COIN VALUES: See how much Native American dollar coins are
The law mandates that the reverse designs commemorate Native
Americans and the important contributions that Indian tribes and
individual Native Americans have made to the development and history
of the United States. The law cites some Native American contributions
that could be recognized, including the creation of the Cherokee
written language, the Iroquois Confederacy, the Pueblo Revolt,
Wampanoag Chief Massasoit, Ely S. Parker (a general on the staff of
Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and later head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs),
code talkers who served the United States Armed Forces during World
War I and World War II, and Olympian Jim Thorpe.
The law specifies that the Sacagawea obverse designed by sculptor
Glenna Goodacre be retained on the obverse and that any reverse design
to be paired with Goodacre's design is not to represent a portrait so
as not to create a two-headed coin. It also requires that at least 20
percent of all dollar coins issued for circulation in a given year
bear the Sacagawea designs.
The 2009 reverse design, based on the theme of agriculture, features
a Native American woman planting seeds in a field of corn, beans and
squash. It was designed and sculptured by U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver
Norman E. Nemeth.
The year of issue, Mint mark and motto E PLURIBUS UNUM are incused
on the edge of the Native American dollars. The legends LIBERTY and IN
GOD WE TRUST are on the obverse. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
and denomination expressed as $1 appear on the reverse.
Native American dollars are made of the same alloy as the Sacagawea
and Presidential dollars and retain all of the size and weight
specifications of the other golden colored dollar coins.
Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:
Cents and half cents:
2- and 3-cent coins:
Dimes and half dimes: