Thursday, May 22, 2008

I Didn't Realize This Coincidence

From The Progressive:

Trail of Tears was trail of betrayal

By Mark Anthony Rolo, May 22, 2008

The Trail of Tears began 170 years ago this week. We should recall it not as an aberration but as a logical outgrowth of an inhumane policy. And we should insist, in its memory, that Indian treaties and Indian sovereignty be honored.

When President Andrew Jackson ordered the Cherokee Nation off its Georgia homelands, the U.S. government signed a treaty with the Cherokees, promising them a $5 million payment upon successful removal west of the Mississippi.

But the bad intentions of the federal government became clear right away.

Cherokee homes were raided, crops ransacked, livestock and land stolen. At gunpoint, nearly 15,000 Cherokees were forced into concentration camps to await final orders to trek, mostly on foot, for nearly 1,000 miles. While many would die on that trail through snow and mountains, others would never even make the journey. Sordid conditions in the camps left many, especially the elderly and children, vulnerable to exposure, disease and starvation.

By the time the remaining Cherokees reached Oklahoma, nearly 8,000 of their relatives had perished. For those who resettled in Oklahoma (Indian Territory), the U.S. government broke the treaty by not paying the Cherokee the $5 million.

The story of the Trail of Tears is an integral part of American Indian history. It is taught in most public schools. The National Park Service has commemorated the physical trail and archived its past online.

But remembering the Trail as mere history, as an isolated, ugly chapter in the nation’s coming of age is shortsighted.

Years before the Cherokee were forced out, Congress paved the way for land theft with the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Other tribes such as the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole were forced off their lands in the Southeast. More than 100,000 tribal people were driven westward.

And when it was time to “win” the West in the latter half of the 19th century, countless tribes ceded vast amounts of original land through treaties that were supposed to guarantee them financial resources to provide for their people. But in fact, few of those treaties have truly been honored.

In the early 1970s, American Indian activists began to stage headline-grabbing protests in order to draw attention to the neglect and abuse of Indians living on desperately poor reservations. In 1972, these activists caravanned across the country to the nation’s capital to demand that the federal government start addressing the deplorable state of Indian life by honoring treaties signed with tribal governments. That caravan was known as the Trail of Broken Treaties.

Throughout the past 200 years, tribes have learned all too well that recognition of their sovereignty starts from scratch with each new presidential administration, each new Congress, every new face on the Supreme Court.

On this anniversary of the Trail of Tears, may the next group learn fast.