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 Presidential series.
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 worth today
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:
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