Recently an online school in Georgia assigned a disturbing writing prompt. The school asked students to theoretically argue why removing the Cherokee people from their homelands on the Trail of Tears would “help the United States grow and prosper.”
It showed an incredibly shortsighted approach to history, but fortunately we were able to correct it after talking with the school’s administrators. We secured a promise from them to learn more about Native American history and to do better. For our part, we committed to provide educational resources and expertise going forward. We achieved all of this because both the school, and Cherokee Nation, were willing to sit down, listen to each other and reach a genuine understanding.
The end result was a positive step forward in the teaching of accurate Native American history. Still, in too many public school curriculums, the history of America largely begins with European colonies. Our great societies prior to contact are largely ignored, and the painful history of removal isn’t treated with respect. As a country, we should shift the timeframe and protagonists of our shared history.
Georgia was the Cherokee people’s home before European contact. Although no tribes are present in Georgia today, more than 1,700 Cherokee citizens are currently living there.
In the 1832 Worcester v. Georgia decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Cherokee Nation is sovereign and not subject to the laws of Georgia. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, the state of Georgia continued pressure to force us from our homes, and President Andrew Jackson eventually signed the Indian Removal Act. The military put us in stockades and forced our ancestors to walk thousands of miles to Indian Territory in harsh winter conditions. This Trail of Tears killed upwards of 4,000 Cherokees, including many elders and children.
Our Cherokee ancestors who survived this atrocity rebuilt their lives on our reservation in northeast Oklahoma. The Cherokee people suffered greatly, but we never surrendered our sovereignty. This history contains important lessons for our lives today, but many textbooks still do not do it justice. We owe it to our youth and to our Cherokee ancestors to have these conversations.
Georgia is not alone in needing to improve the teaching of history. Other state education curriculums are lacking substantive materials, and some even debate reducing Native history lessons. Exposure to Cherokee history and Native history in America helps both Native and non-Native youth better understand the roots of our country and appreciate everyone’s culture.
Given an opportunity to learn, I think most young minds are curious and able to process difficult subjects. To respect our youth and honor our ancestors, Cherokee Nation will continue to offer meaningful dialogue and resources on our tribe and history to any student, teacher or school administration that needs them. By improving our appreciation of history, we build a better future.
Chuck Hoskin Jr.