In 2009, the U.S. Mint made a fundamental change to the Sacagawea Dollar coin. Instead of being devoted solely to honoring Sacagawea, the reverse design changed each year to honor a different aspect of Native American history and culture.
The Sacagawea Dollar was introduced in 2000 as a replacement for the Susan B. Anthony Dollar. It was produced in a golden-colored alloy and was the first circulating U.S. coin to feature an identifiable Native American: Sacagawea, the Native American guide who accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804-1806 on their quest to find an overland route to the Pacific Ocean.
The obverse of the coin depicts Sacagawea with her baby, Jean Baptiste, on her back; Sacagawea gave birth to Jean Baptiste in early 1805 while the expedition was in its winter camp. The reverse showed an eagle in flight, as well as 17 stars to symbolize the 17 states in the Union at the time of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. When the Sacagawea Dollar became the Native American Dollar, the obverse remained the same.
The first Native American Dollar in 2009 was a tribute to the Native American agricultural method known as “three sisters” (planting corn, beans, and squash together). Another major change to the coin was the edge. Whereas the edge was smooth on Sacagawea Dollars, the edge on Native American Dollar features incuse (or sunken) lettering: year of issue, mint mark, and “E Pluribus Unum.”
Subjects for Native American Dollars were:
2009 – Three Sisters
2010 – Great Law of Peace
2011 – Wampanoag Treaty
2012 – Trade Routes
2013 – Treaty with the Delawares
2014 – Native American hospitality
2015 – Mohawk Ironworkers
2016 – Code Talkers
2016 Native American Dollar: Code Talkers
The 2016 coin was a tribute to the Native American “code talkers” in World War I and World War II. The U.S. military knew that any code used to transmit secrets over the airwaves could be intercepted and deciphered by the enemy, but the presence of a few Native Americans allowed the U.S. to create “codes” that were never broken.
Several Native American tribes, most notably Choctaw and Navajo, were represented in the military. Since their native languages existed almost exclusively in the spoken form, very few people outside the tribes knew the languages. As a result, the Native Americans were able to talk freely over the airwaves without fear of the “codes” being broken. Of course, the “codes” were simply the native languages, with additional words created for military items and terminology that did not previously exist in those languages.
The 2016 Native American Dollar shows two helmets, one representing World War I and the other World War II. Two feathers in the background form a “V” to symbolize victory and unity.