[Editor: This is a essay from one of our young readers after a visit to the Smoky Mountains, the original home of the Cherokee Indians]
Imagine outsiders took over your lands forced you out of your home, decided where you needed to live, and you had to take all your belongings on a long and grueling trip, making a journey over unfamiliar and difficult places on foot in bitter weather, to start a completely new way of life. How would you feel?? Mad, sad, annoyed and frustrated? Well this is probably how the Native Americans, especially the Cherokees felt, when the colonists drove them out of their own lands in the 1830s. This event was known as the ‘Indian removal’.
Forced out of their lands
Colonists were beginning to settle in the East Coast of the US in the 1700s and it was becoming crowded for them. The colonists did not share lands like the Native Americans and began pushing other Indian tribes into the Cherokee homeland. Colonists believed that the natives were uncivilized without their own language and script. Soon they wanted the natives to move out even further - west of the Mississippi.
Colonists signed several treaties with the Natives to take over their land in exchange for gold and riches in the early 1800s. The Treaty of New Ecota was the one where Cherokee chieftains sold their homeland to the United States. Finally, President Andrew Jackson issued a rule to remove the Native Americans from the south east region in 1825.
Some colonists and natives protested and tried to save the Cherokees, but they failed. Some Cherokees hid in the nearby forests but were hunted out by the American soldiers. Tsali was a famous Cherokee who valiantly fought to save his people’s land. He was betrayed by a neighbor on orders from colonists to find the missing rebels. With his death most of the Cherokees gave up their fight.
Around 16,000 Cherokees started their journey from North Carolina to Oklahoma their new home, in June 1838 and that ended in March 1839. The natives suffered because of bad weather, unknown terrain, disease and starvation, and more than 4000 Cherokees died on the journey.
Who are the Cherokees?
The Cherokees are one of the “Five Civilized Native American Tribes” along with the Creeks, Seminoles, Choctaws, and Chickasaws. The Cherokees lived in the South Eastern part of the US before the colonists arrived. They lived in groups and farming was an important part of their community. They grew corns, beans, and squash (“the three sisters”). The men hunted bears, deer, rabbit and turkey. They caught fish and would travel on dugout canoes.
Cherokee is the only Native American language to have its own script. Sequoyah developed the Cherokee script in 1820 which is still taught in Cherokee schools today. Cherokees were initially allies of the French, but after France lost the “French and Indian war”, they helped the British during the American Revolution.
Today, around 130,000 Native Americans live in the United States. Most of them live in Oklahoma and are known as the Western Band Cherokees. Some of them live in a small reservation in the Smoky Mountains National Park. These are the Eastern Band Cherokees.
In the last two centuries, Native Americans have been interacting with Americans and many of them have lost their traditions. Only a few Cherokees still keep their culture.