One executive decision in the early 19th century changed the lives of countless Native Americans forever, starting with the day they were forced out of their own homes with nothing but the clothes they had on. Evan Jones, a baptist missionary, recalls how, “…
nearly all prisoners, the Cherokees had been dragged from their homes and encamped at the forts and military places, all over the nation.” During President Andrew Jackson’s administration, Native American rights were violated and destroyed. What was meant to improve the overall state of our nation, ended in the betrayal of the people who helped kick off our nation in the first place.
Continuous pressure to remove Natives from the southern states ended in the Indian Removal Act which was signed on the 28th of May in 1830. The act gave President Jackson the authority to grant Indian tribes land west of the Mississippi River if they wanted it. However, this power was abused and Natives were forcibly relocated.
The Indian Removal Act shouldn’t have been passed because it betrayed previous treaties between Indian tribes and the U.S. government, it forced American Indians out of their homes, made them live in unfamiliar territory, and in the process cost them parts of their culture.Before signing the Indian Removal Act of 1830, several Indian tribes already had agreements or treaties with U.S. government. The Cherokee tribe, for one, agreed to the Treaty of Holston on July 2, 1791.
This treaty, under Article I, was meant to enforce peace and friendship between the Cherokee and Americans by means of civilization, Article XIV. The treaty also states that, “The United States solemnly guarantee to the Cherokee nation, all their lands not hereby ceded.” However, these promises of a peaceful and friendly future did not last long. Desperate and greedy white settlers urged the U.
S. government to remove the Cherokee so that they would have more land for themselves. Correspondingly, the Treaty of the Cherokee Agency was signed on July 1817 promising an acre for acre trade if the Cherokee would only move west of the Mississippi River. This treaty not only signaled the beginning of the Indian Removal Era, but it also betrayed the Treaty of Holston and its promises to never make Native Americans give up their land. However, the Treaty of 1817 wasn’t the only one that betrayed prior agreements between Native Americans and the U.S.
When the Indian Removal Act was passed by President Jackson in 1830, it tried to persuade Native Americans into moving west of the Mississippi River into a reserved Indian Territory on their own, with incentives such as financial and material assistance to get them there. Nevertheless, Native American tribes like the Cherokee would not budge so Jackson cut off all their settlements from previous land deals and treaties. This opened a door for despicable behavior towards Native Americans including threatening and bribing them to leave unless they wanted much more severe consequences. President Jackson also agreed with Southern states that their laws determined tribal lands, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled otherwise in the Worcester v. Georgia case. Chief Justice John Marshall made it clear that the relationship between America and the American Indian Nation was that of nations and therefore states could not force Natives to move.
Only the federal government could come to conclusions about the American Indian Nation, but even they could not make Natives leave their land, deeming the Indian Removal Act unconstitutional, illegal, and betraying of previous treaties. Yet, President Jackson straight out ignored this and Southern states quickly followed suit. Campaigns against Native Americans continued and eventually led to the Trail of Tears. The proposal to relocate American Indians began back with President Thomas Jefferson although only a small amount of Native Americans did so. President Jackson however, was determined to follow through with the relocation of all Native Americans with later help from President Martin Van Buren. Jackson’s determination would have to equal the determination of Native American tribes to stay in the land that they and their ancestors grew up in, if he really wanted to see them relocated.
Several of the largest tribes put up a fight when U.S. troops came to escort them. The Seminoles refused to leave their land which resulted in the Second and Third Seminole War but eventually they left against their will. The Creeks also refused and ended up forcibly removed as well without ever signing a removal treaty. The Cherokee, in contrast, did sign a treaty of removal, the Treaty of Echota, but it was illegitimate because the Cherokees who had signed it weren’t recognized leaders of the tribe. The Cherokee, led by Chief John Ross, protestested and would not leave their home land, so ignoring the Supreme Court’s ruling, President Jackson sent U.S.
troops to round up the Cherokee and forcibly send them on their way to the Indian Territory. In groups of 1,000, the Cherokee started their long journey on foot from Georgia and Alabama to present day Oklahoma, with almost nothing but what they had on. Their troublesome journey is known as the Trail of Tears. Life on the trail was extremely difficult in many aspects.
Native Americans were forced to walk through extreme weather condition, avoid certain town were they weren’t welcomed, and even deal with being watched by spectators who did nothing to help. Approximately thirty five thousand out of the fifteen thousand who made their way to Oklahoma did not survive the trip. Life after the Trail of Tears was hard as well because the remaining Native Americans had to learn how to adapt to the unknown territory, or their “new home.” One of the very first things that the Cherokee did upon their arrival was to execute those who signed the Treaty of Echota. It seemed as though the U.S. had reached its goal of dividing the tribe, but no. The Cherokee began to think of their future and they created their own form of government.
They along with the other tribes who had migrated with them, had to learn how to co-live with the tribes who were there before them, after all, they were now the intruders. They applied their skills from back home to the new land and slowly but surely learned how to sustain themselves again. Tension began to rise only when the Civil War came around. Confederate Cherokees often had disputes with Union Cherokee. Later, in the 1800’s, oil was discovered in the Indian territory which was a whole other problem in itself, because it was quite similar to how Americans found gold in Georgia and Alabama. Due to this, Americans began moving into the Indian Territory and in 1907, Oklahoma was declared a state. The fairly new Cherokee government was quickly eradicated. The promises between the U.
S and Native Americans were once again broken.In the process of protesting for their land, being forcibly relocated into the Indian Territory, and having to adjust to a new environment, Native Americans lost parts of their culture. In an effort to try and assimilate American Indians, Sequoyah, a Cherokee silversmith, developed the first ever native american alphabet. Southeastern tribes were not used to this at all. They were used to being one with nature, roaming the woods, gathering around streams and rivers, and especially hunting. Their oral traditions, such as chants and stories, were slowly fading, and it didn’t help that schools were being built around the Indian Territory so they could receive a European styled education. To this day, Native Americans are still trying to bring back their culture and teach their kids the significance of the rituals and traditions that their ancestors once practiced.
In conclusion, the Indian Removal Act of 1830 should not have been passed due to it being unconstitutional, forcing Native Americans through the Trail of Tears, consequently making them adjust to a new environment, and in the midst of it all, it created a loss of cultural identity among American Indians that they still struggle with today. The act could have been avoided and might have made our country a better place full of diversity. The only thing the act managed to do, was crumble a once prosperous culture and nearly wipe it out. As a nation, we need to stop and reflect why it is that we have trouble accepting a certain type of people and continuously push them away to only to make room for ourselves.