The Lost Journals of Sacajewea: A Discussion with Debra Magpie Earling


Today’s book is: The Lost Journals of Sacajewea (Milkweed Editions, 2023), by Debra Magpie Earling, which is a devastatingly beautiful novel that challenges prevailing historical narratives of Sacajewea. Among the most memorialized women in American history, Sacajewea served as interpreter and guide for Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. 

In this visionary novel, acclaimed Indigenous author Debra Magpie Earling brings this mythologized figure vividly to life, casting unsparing light on the men who brutalized her and recentering Sacajewea as the arbiter of her own history. Raised among the Lemhi Shoshone, in this telling the young Sacajewea is bright and bold, growing strong from the hard work of “learning all ways to survive”: gathering berries, water, roots, and wood; butchering buffalo, antelope, and deer; catching salmon and snaring rabbits; weaving baskets and listening to the stories of her elders. When her village is raided and her beloved Appe and Bia are killed, Sacajewea is kidnapped and then gambled away to Charbonneau, a French Canadian trapper. Heavy with grief, Sacajewea learns how to survive at the edge of a strange new world teeming with fur trappers and traders. When Lewis and Clark’s expedition party arrives, Sacajewea knows she must cross a vast and brutal terrain with her newborn son, the white man who owns her, and a company of men who wish to conquer and commodify the world she loves. Written in lyrical, dreamlike prose, The Lost Journals of Sacajewea is an astonishing work of art and a powerful tale of perseverance—the Indigenous woman’s story that hasn’t been told.

Keywords from today’s episode include: Sacajewea, Agai River, Appe, Bia, Charbonneau, Lewis and Clark, The Journals of Lewis and Clark, Otter Woman, Pop Pank, MMIW, Lemhi Shoshone, Shoshone, Mandan, Hidasta.

Today’s guest is: Debra Magpie Earling, who is the author of The Lost Journals of Sacajewea. An earlier version of The Lost Journals of Sacajewea was written in verse and produced as an artist book during the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition. She has received both a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She retired from the University of Montana where she was named professor emeritus in 2021. She is Bitterroot Salish.

Our host is: Dr. Christina Gessler, who is a freelance book editor. She has served as content director and producer of the Academic Life podcast since she launched it in 2020. The Academic Life is proud to be an academic partner of the New Books Network.

Listeners to this episode may be interested in:

  • Perma Red, by Debra Magpie Earling
  • Sacred Wilderness, by Susan Power
  • Grass Dancer, by Susan Power
  • Night of the Living Rez, by Morgan Talty
  • Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese
  • Embers, by Richard Wagamese

Listeners may also be interested in:

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Christina Gessler

Dr. Christina Gessler is the creator, show host, and producer of the Academic Life podcast. She holds a PhD in U.S. history.
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