The Trail of Tears: 1830 nightmare
Some of you might have heard about an historic episode referred to as the Trail of Tears. It refers to a path that thousands of Indians were forced to travel, having been deported by then US president Andrew Jackson. Why were they deported you ask? Because Mr. Jackson could. But let me back up a bit.
Andrew Jackson and his Indian Removal Act
Imagine being a little Cherokee girl or boy and waking up to a gun to your face, your family
gone, being forced to leave the land you had known as home all of your life. Imagine as a mother or father being separated from your children, not knowing if you would see them again. That is what Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act did. The year was 1830. Andrew Jackson was then the president of the United States. In a bold and heartless move, Mr. Jackson negotiated and approved the Indian Removal Act, ordering native tribes living east of the Mississippi river to move to designated “indian grounds” on the other side of the river. Numerous tribes were affected, including the Chippewa (north) or the Seminole and the Cherokee (south). The reasoning behind the act? Because Jackson was bold, and made one of the most controversial decisions in history. The Act authorized the president to negotiate treaties to buy indian lands east of the Mississippi river in exchange for lands quite further west. 45 000 Natives were forced to move off their own lands.
The fight of the Cherokees
However, in an unprecedented move, the Cherokees (in Georgia), instead of fighting on the ground like their ancestors might have done, took Jackson to court. Yes, they actually went to the legal system for support and justice. And guess what? Judge John Marshall actually sided in their favor! They were deemed to be allowed to remain on their land as it was decided that Georgia could not impose its laws upon Cherokee tribal lands . Yay victory! Think again…
How did Jackson respond? Well I believe his answer went something like this: “John Marshall made his decision, now let him enforce it”. 7000 troops were sent to remove the tribes. Thousand of Cherokees were forcibly removed from their land at gunpoint, in cattle stockades. Families were separated, never to be reunited again. Lands were lost, people died, or were abused and mistreated. Indeed, because the road to be traveled was strenuous, it is estimated that 1 out of 4 people did not make it (about 4000 people). They died of malnutrition, exhaustion, not enough rest, no medicine or simply being killed by soldiers. Just imagine for one second having to live through this. Losing family members, loved ones, friends. And not being able to give them a proper burial as you were forced to leave them behind and keep walking. Burial is such an important part of death within the native culture, respecting the dead, sending them into the spiritual world in the right way. I can only imagine what it was like for them not being able to do so. Hence the name the Trail of Tears.
What happened next?
Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act marked the beginning of the Removal Era, thousands and thousands of Natives being removed from their lands. Followed by the Land Run era, during which land was disputed and no respect was given to its original inhabitants. The land was wanted for numerous reasons including farming or the belief that gold was present. For years and years, Native nations fought for their land. Oftentimes losing the battle. Can you imagine if one day the land you knew as home that had been yours for generations was suddenly taken from you? That it was suddenly deemed not to be yours anymore and there was nothing you could do about it? The Trails of Tears is a tragedy in US history, representing the largest percentage of deaths in one single native tribe due to the actions of the US government.
The Trails of Tears led to the subhuman treatment of native people. Treating them as though they were not welcomed anymore, they did not matter, they had no rights. When in reality, they were the indigenous people of the land, the ones who were there from the beginning. Through all this injustice and gross mistreatment, however, I see the resilience of the native people. They had to be resilient to go through all of this, never giving up. They fought for their freedom, their rights, keeping their head up. They showed pride and an inordinate amount of strength and resilience. They showed they were survivors. And they still are. Change cannot occur when minds are not open and respect is not given. And respect was certainly not given by Jackson.
The short video included in the link below summarizes the Trail of Tears. Please take 3 minutes to watch it.
Tell me what you think of this post, if you had ever heard of the Trail of Tears, how it affected you or your family, etc. Would love to hear from you!
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