In the epilogue to The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears, the authors conclude: “The Trail of Tears is their (the Cherokee) story, but it is also an American story. And if it is a story we are not proud of, we should make sure that its lesson is well learned: Racism, greed, and political partisanship can subvert even the noblest American ideals.”
While reading the book, I could not help but make parallels, not just to what is happening in the United States today (where racism, greed and political partisanship seem even worse than ever), but to what has been happening over and over around the world. The American government’s treatment of Native Americans in the United States, especially its policy of removal, was our Holocaust. White Christian Europeans assumed that the native tribes were lesser than fully human, that because their civilization was different, it was uncivilized, and because they worshipped in a different way, they were heathen. While there were no gas chambers and no grand design of extermination, the United States government forced thousands of men, women and children to march over 1,000 miles barefoot, with little clothing, almost no tents, inadequate food and literally none of their belongings. Everything they owned had been taken from them. Many died.
In the last paragraph, I have written “the government,” but in truth I should say “we.” Though we were not alive at the time of the past atrocities against Native Americans, we currently sit in our living rooms and watch as people around the world are suffering a similar fate. Trails of Tears continue.
I pray that understanding what the Cherokee Nation suffered, and what all of the First Nations peoples suffered, will help me get out of my living room and really commit to working for safety and dignity of all people. I look forward to the next six weeks of study, and to going to participating in continuing Acts of Repentance and Healing towards Indigenous People through the United Methodist Church.