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Designs unveiled for new Native American $1 coins

Program to launch in 2009

WASHINGTON - A U.S. Mint advisory committee has recommended a new $1 American Indian coin design that officials hope will soon complement the flip side of the famous Sacagawea coin.

The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, which is responsible for advising the secretary of the treasury on themes and designs pertaining to U.S. coinage, reviewed 15 design candidates June 18 and selected a creation portraying a female American Indian figure planting seeds in a cornfield.

Another popular design, which came in second place, featured three female Indians surrounded by squash, corn and beans. It represented the traditional Native ''Three Sisters'' system of planting the crops, which tend to supplement each other when grown in the same location.

In consultation with the National Museum of the American Indian and other Native groups, the Mint decided to focus on Indian agricultural achievements for the first year of its Native American $1 coin program, which will officially launch in 2009.

Mitch Sanders, chairman of the committee, said he was impressed by the quality of designs and hopes that the ultimate selection will be a symbol of pride for American Indians. He also wants the coins to help convey important knowledge about Indian history and culture to more Americans.

''What ended up carrying the day for our selection was how clearly it represented the theme of Native Americans and agriculture,'' Sanders said. ''We liked its aesthetic appeal and the fact that a Native American woman is shown being strongly involved in agriculture.''

The program results from the Native American $1 Coin Act, adopted by Congress in 2007, which requires ''the secretary of the treasury to mint and issue coins in commemoration of Native Americans and the important contributions made by Indian tribes and individual Native Americans to the development of the United States and the history of the United States, and for other purposes.''

The law also mandates that at least 20 percent of all $1 coins minted and issued in any year be Native American $1 coins. Five distinct $1 coins will be issued each year starting in 2009 - four Presidential $1 coins and one Native American $1 coin.

This year's design finalists were created by Mint artisans and participants in the agency's artist infusion program. To keep the process unbiased, no members of the committee were allowed to know which artist designed any of the coin candidates.

One American Indian, Rita Laws, Oklahoma Choctaw, sits on the 11-member committee. Officials with the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the Congressional Native American Caucus of the House of Representatives, and the National Congress of American Indians have been consulted throughout the evaluation process.

The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts will soon review the designs, and then its recommendation, along with that of the coinage committee, will be taken into consideration by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson before he makes a final decision. The coins then will be set for minting and begin circulation in 2009.

No matter what design is ultimately chosen, the obverse side of the coin will retain the central figure of the Sacagawea design first produced in 2000 and will contain the inscription ''Liberty.''

The coinage committee also recommended a minor tweak to the Sacagawea coin: moving the date from the face of the coin to the edge of the coin.

Like the Presidential $1 coins, the Native American $1 coins are expected to keep their golden color and distinctive edge, and feature edge-lettering of the year, mint mark, ''E Pluribus Unum'' and ''In God We Trust.''

Whatever reverse design is chosen for 2009, it will not be permanent. It will change each year to celebrate important contribution of Indian tribes or individual Native people, but will continue to contain the inscriptions ''$1'' and ''United States of America.''

Sanders said he hopes these changing themes will help popularize the Sacagawea dollar in the same way that the 50-state coin program has done for quarters.

Until the conclusion of the Presidential $1 coin program, Mint officials said the Native coins will be issued in chronological order of the events or persons being featured on the reverse design. And after the completion of the Presidential $1 coin program, the Native American $1 coin program will continue.

The Mint plans to continue to produce Native American $1 coins so that the total quantity of $1 coins minted and issued for circulation is sufficient to meet the needs of the nation.

The Mint is currently preparing a timeline of events and personal contributions of Native peoples for themes for the program until at least 2016. This timeline will then be used to create new candidate designs for consideration in ensuing years.