Imagine this: one day you are just sitting there and you hear a knock on your door. It's some angry soldier who grabs you and tells you, you have to leave and walk to a new home over 800 miles away.
"Walk? 800 miles? Are you crazy?" you say.
You look around and see that soldiers are rounding up everyone that you know and making them start walking as well. After packing your clothes and a few of your favorite possessions you start walking. There are so many people that you can't count them all. You give up when you reach four hundred. While counting you forget to keep up with your parents. Now you have lost them. It's really cold and snowy outside and you realize you don't even have any shoes on. The soldiers never even gave you a chance to find them. So you are all alone tired, hungry, and frostbitten and you have no idea where your parents are or how to find them. You stop walking and go off into the woods to go the bathroom. On your way back you stumble over something in the road. You look down and see your mom frozen in the falling snow.
All you can do is cry, but you don't have time to mourn because the soldiers are telling you to keep moving. You are very sad and broken but you realize you have to be strong in order to survive this horrible nightmare. This nightmare is called the "Trail Of Tears" and it really happened. The story I just told you is a very common story in the history of many American Indian families whose ancestors were torn from their homes because of the Trail of Tears. Why? Why did they walk? Why did the soldiers make them walk? Why all of this suffering? Why? Why?
There are many ways to answer these questions. But, ultimately it has a very simple explanation: Europeans wanted more land to farm, hunt and build houses on. This explanation leads all the way back to when Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. He destroyed all three million of the Arawak Indians by enslaving them, stealing their land, taking their gold and everything that they needed to survive. If you look back at the history of the United States, it would have been easy to predict the Trail of Tears. It has been a tragic custom in our country for outsiders to come in and destroy the indigenous people's culture. It had to happen at some point the way our great old country was being formed.
The Trail of Tears had many issues around it. The Cherokee were a huge tribe that occupied lands in eight southern states. They called themselves "Ani Yunwiya" meaning "The Principal People". They had developed a system of social order and participatory democracy based on sacred law -- all long before the white man ever arrived. The Cherokee were organized through seven clans. It was through their mother that children gained their clan identity, which gave them citizenship. The Cherokee were very sophisticated and had very good hunting habits. They were a very powerful tribe who had numbers close to 20,000.
Quickly, though, their lives began to change. White settlers came on huge ships. These settlers brought slaves, clothes, guns, ammunition and many other things that they could trade with the neighboring Cherokee. The Cherokee came to them in peace. They traded all kind of things: deerskin, cloth, corn, even slaves. That's correct: the Cherokee had slaves. There was even one Cherokee, Joseph Van, who had 800 acres of land and 100 slaves. The Cherokee soon were building log cabins, and farming and hunting with the white man. They even had their own written language invented by Sequoya. They soon had their own newspaper called the "Cherokee Phoenix". The Cherokee adopted the European lifestyle very quickly but that still wasn't enough. They even had their own Capital in New Echota, Georgia. However, the U.S government didn't want a union within a union, but the Cherokee had accomplished just that. The Cherokee were very good businessmen, writers, politicians, farmers, and hunters. But no matter what they did, it still wasn't enough to make the European settlers show them equal respect.
As I sat on the Indigenous stage listening to the rhythmic sounds of Mato Nanji's guitar, I thought about the long distance that I had traveled by car. My journey was nothing compared to what the Cherokee people had endured on their long horrid walk. Mato Nanji's music went through my body like a doctor and cured any hard feelings or anger that was still inside me from discussing the Trail of Tears. I realized that the old saying was still true: we can't change history, we can only learn from it.
I mourn for all the people who have died in our country at the hand of our government, people of every race, religion or gender. But I am just like the little boy on the Trail of Tears who had to keep moving on. There's too many problems in our country to linger on the past when we could be busy improving the present. We have to learn about the past, about both the positive and the negative, in order to strive in the future. We don't want the aftermath of the Trail of Tears to continue, so now is the time to put an end to that sad chapter in American history. Please help fight diabetes, the continued theft of Indian lands, nuclear storage on Indian Lands, and the destruction of our natural environment. You can make a difference.
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Stephanie - Three wars, thousands of troops and 100 utterly unconquerable Seminoles