The Cherokee People and Trail of Tears
Conservative estimates of Native Americans living in North America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492 range from ten to ninety million (Native American History). With the Europeans’ arrival many diseases arrived as well, including measles, smallpox, cholerae to name a few (Native American History). With these new diseases the Native American population suffered drastically, dropping to around 300,000 by 1830 (Indian Populations, 1830).
As Europeans continued to settle the Eastern coast of North America there were five primary tribes that were able to survive the wave of new diseases. These tribes included the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Seminole, and the Chickasaw. These tribes appeared to get along well with the Europeans because of their intelligence, work ethic, and character (Native American History for Dummies Cheat Sheet), but tension continued to rise between the new colonists and the Native Americans as the intentions of the Europeans became clear. The Creek, Choctaw, Seminole, and the Chickasaw were the first tribes to get removed from their homeland. By the early 1800s, the Cherokee people had occupied land in present day Tennessee, Georgia, and the Carolinas for nearly 300 years (Cherokee History). This all changed with the push for Indian Relocation and the election of President Andrew Jackson.
The Indian Removal Act was signed by President Jackson in May 28, 1830. This law granted access or permission to negotiate the removal of Indians peacefully, voluntarily and fairly. (Trail of History 2009). Jackson and most Americans wanted this law to pass to help support the economic future of the United States. They believed that if they could remove the Native Americans from these lands and expand South it would provide opportunities for farmers and other colonists all along the eastern coast. This proved to be true with the later introduction of cotton. (The History Engine). However, this law was intended to keep anyone, including President Jackson, from forcing Native Americans from their land involuntarily (Trail of Tears- History.Web.09 November,2009). Although the law was meant to be a peaceful negotiation, and was meant to protect their lands, it was clear that the law was set in place to benefit the United States and did not take into consideration the interests of the Native Americans. Even with its flaws, the Indian Removal Act failed to provide its intended protections when President Jackson later ignored the law and removed Indian’s from their lands forcefully.
The Cherokees were made believe that if they acted more like white Americans, they could live in peace with them and still maintain their lands. And so, they did, mothers and daughters stayed at home to cook meals and tend to the garden while fathers and boys chopped wood and farmed. (The Trail of Tears – The Indian Removals). But they were lied to, they were still being forced to leave their lands. The Cherokees were finally forced to leave their land when gold was found (The Trail of Tears – The Indian Removals).
To avoid any more issues some of the Cherokee people agreed to take a payment and land on reservations West of the Mississippi River in exchange for their homes. Despite this, nearly 16,000 Cherokees tried to hold onto their homelands under Chief John Ross but were forced to relocate to present day Oklahoma. In the meantime, the remaining Cherokees believed they had one more chance, they chose a person from their tribe who could represent them against Georgia, who did not want to recognize the Cherokees right to stay in their land. As Georgia refused to let them stay in their land the Cherokees searched for legal help from the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee people (Chief Little John and the “Trail of Tears” October 3, 1790). John Marshall’s opinion was that Georgia had no jurisdiction over the lands of the Cherokee people. But this was ignored, and in 1838 President Martin Van Buren sent General Winfield Scott and 7,000 soldiers were sent to expedite the removal process (Trail of Tears- History.Web.09 November,2009) to begin the removable of the natives. The soldiers began to push people out of their lands. We know this as the Trail of Tears, one of the most unconstitutional, unpleasant, and excruciating events in American history.
The Native Americans suffered horrendously because in the eye of the Europeans they were not equal or on their level, they did not accept the Native Americans for who they were. They forced these tribes to be who the Europeans wanted them to be. The Europeans led the Native American’s to believe that if only they behaved in a certain way there would be no issue and they could remain in their lands. The Native American’s agreed and picked up their way of living and adapted to it. This to the Europeans was how normal people should act. But normal should not be based just on white skin, we can all be normal, and we are all humans. We should have never and should never try to manipulate others to change simply because we do not agree with the way they speak, look, or what their religion beliefs are. Trying to change people will not work, we need to be acceptable of everyone, acceptable that we each have a way of thinking and we cannot control everyone and their beliefs. But America continues to struggle with this, nearly two hundred years later.
The pain and misery the Native Americans went through in the early 1800’s was obviously not enough, that today we are trying to build a pipeline through their lands. This pipeline not only will it be built on Native American land, but it would travel underneath the Mississippi river, their water source. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has reported more than 3,300 incidents of leaks and ruptures at oil and gas pipelines since 2010 (Dakota Access Pipeline: What to Know About the Controversy 2016). If a leak happen this will ruin the drinking water for The Native Americans, and once again we will make them sacrifice their land for the benefit of the United States. Aside from these pipelines traveling on their land they will also travel all along the route of the pipeline are sites of religious and cultural significance to our people, including burial sites of our ancestors (History. Stand with Standing Rock). We can not keep kicking people out of their lands for our own personal benefit, instead we should respect each other’s property and figure out a better solution instead of thinking that the Native Americans will simply let another tragic event happen again.
The Europeans should have never forced their way into land that was never theirs. This land was sacred to those who lived in it, their history and the memories of their ancestors all lied there. This land was stripped away from innocent people. The Native Americans received and adapted the American culture to remain the peace between them and all they did was violate their trust. The Europeans were selfish, not thinking about what consequences this would lead up to. We lost so many lives in such an excruciating event in American history and the United States should be ashamed for letting this happen, they knew it was wrong. But they let it happen and we need to do everything in our power to never ever let this happen again. So many innocent and young lives were lost, so many lives. What an inhumane thing to do.
We lost many Native American lives, we ripped people off from their lands, we ruined a perfectly well tribe, we ruined many lives. We will forever look back at this point in history and get chills simply by remembering the inhumane treatment the Native Americans received from the Europeans. We simply cannot go back and change the past, but if we can work together, we can change the future.
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