A Permanent Stain (Part 3 of 3)
In 1835, President Andrew Jackson addressed Congress with a message about the Indian Removal Act. He promised that the Native Americans would be treated fairly, that they would be amply provided for and that the removal would be for their physical and moral improvement.
Even if Andrew Jackson had good intentions at the time (which is doubtful, looking at his indifference toward Native Americans), the reality is that the removal of thousands of Cherokee and other natives from their homes was anything but beneficial to them. It wasn’t simply the massive number that died on the trail that suffered. The relocating had numerous long-term effects that are still being felt today.
The post-removal death and illness rates were extremely high for the Cherokee. People were dealing with the grief and stress of not knowing where their loved ones were. Many of their family members were still back in Georgia, incarcerated and awaiting an unknown fate. Families had been divided, never to be rejoined again.
Difficult Times Settling in Oklahoma
The Cherokee leaders did what they could to take care of those who were without parents. They established laws to care for the education and welfare of orphaned children in 1841. By that time, many who made it to the new territory in Oklahoma had already died, but the Cherokee government was trying to recover as well. There was little food to be had there, and the Native Americans had to resort to hunting and gathering for most of their food as opposed to the lives of farming and cultivating they had enjoyed back in Georgia. This meant there was less food to go around and many died of starvation as the people slowly recovered.
Over the long term, physical recovery finally took place. The Cherokee repopulated, they established homes and a nation for their people once more and they began to thrive and ensure their culture lived on in their descendants. But the tragedy they had lived through continues to define them today. It bred a deep distrust of outsiders and government in particular. It also created tension that is still evident today between all native peoples and the whites. The idea that the Supreme Court can be defied by a president and government that wants gold is not something that is easily forgotten.
A Stolen History
But perhaps the most egregious crime committed against the Cherokee was that of rewriting history. The government informed the people of the United States about the relocation, but they made it sound as though the Cherokee were agreeable to it and that the journey itself was more of a nature walk than any sort of grueling trek under armed force and perilous conditions.
The number of dead was glossed over and the American people, for the most part, were not even aware of the great atrocity that had been committed. It was a perfect example of the victors writing the history books in their favor, and it wouldn’t be until years later that some of the truth would start to come out and become public knowledge. That was little consolation to the Cherokee who had suffered, losing homes and families to a gold-hungry government.
The Trail of Tears is perhaps the blackest mark upon the American nation there has ever been. It created wounds that are still healing to this day and scars that can be seen quite clearly. But the Cherokee are a resilient people, and they continue to thrive despite a tragic history filled with many wrongs committed against them.