In many ways, Sacagawea has acted as a role model for the modern Native American woman and has transcended the stereotype left by the oppression of history.
Sacagawea's image has been a lasting symbol of the Native American female. She has at times been represented as a mother with a child strapped on her back scouting her way beyond a distant horizon. She has also been shown as a Native Princess paddling a birch bark canoe in the light of a full moon. The turn of the 20th century witnessed the exploitation of the Native American female as they were portrayed on postcards and calendars as "princesses, who were more enticing, in their sexually explicit outfits, of low necklines, net stockings, and slit skirts" (Valaskakis 141). The pristine image of Sacagawea has endured because of the legend that surrounded her. Sacagawea has become a universal symbol that has framed the Native American woman and has given a voice to the Indian culture.
The legend of Sacagawea has been a key component of the bridging of the gap between Native Americans and European settlers. In addition, it has added to our morality and attitudes toward race, ethnicity, and gender. The Lewis and Clark Expedition was a journey of white male Europeans being led by a Native American Woman. The magnitude of the expedition can be seen in Meriwether Lewis's journal entry of April 7, 1805 where he writes, "we are now about to penetrate a country at least two thousand miles in width, on which the foot of civillized (sic) man had never trodden; the good or evil it had in store for us was for experiment yet to determine, and these little vessells (sic) contained every article by which we were to expect to subsist or defend ourselves" (Lewis). The expedition was in the hands of Sacagawea and was reliant upon her for its success. This acknowledgement of the respect for Sacagawea laid the foundation for the women's movement that would affect women of all color decades later.
The attitude of the white male power structure was one of overconfident invincibility in its move Westward to conquer the land and the Natives. However, the government had greatly underestimated the task of making it to the west coast. In 1803 President Thomas Jefferson wrote the Congress requesting the necessary resources to launch the expedition. Jefferson wrote, "It is understood that the country on the river is inhabited by numerous tribes [. . .] An intelligent officer with ten or twelve chosen men [. . .] might explore the whole line, even to the Western ocean" (Duncan and Burns 8). Jefferson and the government had placed the "ten or twelve chosen men" as a powerful force in the face of the Natives and nature. The expedition soon realized that they were undermanned when facing the vast hostile tribes of the West and Sacagawea was able to act as a symbol of peace rather than aggression ("The Life of Sacagawea"). The fact that one teenage Native woman would be needed to complete the trek across the country defined Sacagawea as a woman that was skilled, tenacious, and courageous. This portrayal has empowered the Native American female in a litany of other, and more personal, endeavors.
The most powerful force that has impacted the Native American woman by the life of Sacagawea has been the inspiration that she has given to the young people in search of a role model. This