Friday, January 31, 2020

The Trail of Tears, January 31, 2020

We are now about to take our leave
and kind farewell to our native land,
the country the Great Spirit gave our Fathers,
we bid farewell to it and all we hold dear.
~Chief Charles Hicks (Cherokee)
re: the Trail of Tears, Nov. 4, 1838

This is the third in a series of posts about Cindy's Native American heritage. Her known maternal lineage consists of 6 Chickasaw women, including her 2X Great Grandmother Lucy Hawkins Newberry (1824-1907). The oldest Chickasaw ancestor in her lineage is her 3X Great Grandmother Sha-thlock-kee Hawkins, who was born in Mississippi in the early years of the 19th century and who died sometime before 1897.

Lucy Hawkins Newberry
In Oklahoma, about 1900
The Indian Removal Act. Lucy Newberry and her mother Sha-thlock-kee Hawkins were two Native American ancestors who were personally affected by the worst event in the history of the Chickasaw Nation. It occurred in the late 1830s when the Chickasaws were forced out of their ancestral home in Mississippi and relocated to Indian Territory in what is today Oklahoma. Before Europeans ever came to North America, the Chickasaw, and many other Native Americans, resided east of the Mississippi River in what is today Northern Mississippi and surrounding areas. As Europeans arrived on North American shores and moved westward from the East Coast they coveted Native American ancestral land for their own agricultural use and financial benefit. As a result the Indian Removal Act of 1830 was passed during the Presidency of Andrew Jackson which authorized the forced relocation of indigenous people. It was one more way our early European Ancestors exploited Native Americans. Their motivation was the same as the slave traders who forced countless black Africans into slavery.

"The Trail of Tears." Over the decades of the 1830s and 1840s the "Five Civilized Tribes of Native Americans," one of which was the Chickasaw Tribe, were forced to leave the land that had been their home for generations. They were marched by American Soldiers and State Militias westward across the Mississippi River several hundred miles to what is today Oklahoma. There they were given land in exchange for their land in the area around Northern Mississippi. It was a deal that was intended to be fair and equitable, but had a very negative impact on the Chickasaw and other Native American tribes. The route the American Indians were forced to travel came to be called "The Trail of Tears" because of the many hardships they had to endure. Nearly 60,000 total Indians of all five tribes made the arduous trek. They included women, men, children and numerous black slaves who were owned by the Indians. About 10% of all those who began the march died along the way from exposure, starvation or disease. It was a traumatic event that will forever remain etched in the collective psyche of the Native American Tribes who were affected.

Sculpture of Chickasaw Warrior
Chickasaw Cultural Center
Sulphur, Oklahoma
The Chickasaw Nation, of which Cindy is a citizen, has been resilient over the last two centuries since the time of "The Trail of Tears." They have thrived as a people, not only in South Central Oklahoma but throughout the US where many thousands live in the diaspora and continue to proudly claim their Native American heritage.

The official Chickasaw website says that "Today, the Chickasaw Nation is economically strong, culturally vibrant and full of energetic people dedicated to the preservation of family, community and heritage. Business has flourished, programs and services have grown, and the quality of life for all Chickasaws has been greatly enhanced. The Chickasaw Nation uses new technologies and dynamic business strategies in a global market. This unique system is key to the Chickasaw Nation’s efforts to pursue self-sufficiency and self-determination which helps ensure that Chickasaws stay a united and thriving people."

This Native American heritage is one more part of a very diverse and beautiful family tree to which we all belong, a family tree that we lift up and celebrate with great thanksgiving. Others of you who are readers of this blog may also have Native American roots. I would welcome your stories and would be glad to include them in this blog.
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Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

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