Friday, February 28, 2014

Cherokee Memorials

The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called A Brief History of American Literature.

The story of the Cherokee Indian Tribe, as with pretty much all Native American tribes, is one of great tragedy, suffering, and survival.  In 1829, gold was discovered in the Cherokee Nation, which was also in the state of Georgia, and white settlers began pouring in.  This discovery, along with the ever-expanding population of the United States, prompted president Andrew Jackson and the U.S. Congress to pass the infamous Indian Removal Act of 1830, which forcibly moved all Indian tribes west of the Mississippi River.  This included the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee nations.  Thousands of people were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands, in violation of previous treaties.  The Indian Removal Act directly caused the tragic Trail of Tears, in which tribes were moved, at gunpoint, by U.S. troops.  Thousands of Native Americans died en route. The Indian Removal Act is one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history.

In the year before the Indian Removal Act, as the government was preparing to remove them, representatives of the Cherokee Nation delivered written petitions before congress, pleading for justice and humane treatment.  These written documents are known as “The Cherokee Memorials.”  The writings are elegant, thoughtful, and ultimately heartbreaking, as they fell on deaf ears and callous consciences.  Here are some excerpts from The Cherokee Memorials, delivered before the U.S Congress in 1829:
“We, the representatives of the people of the Cherokee nation, in general council convened, compelled by a sense of duty we owe to ourselves and nation, and confiding in the justice of your honorable bodies, address and make known to you the grievances which disturb the quiet repose and harmony of our citizens, and the dangers by which we are surrounded… our safety as individuals, and as a nation, require that we should be heard by the immediate representatives of the people of the United States, whose humanity and magnanimity, by the permission and will of Heaven, may yet preserve us from ruin and extinction.”
“It remains to be proved, under a view of all these circumstances, and the knowledge we have of history, how our right to self-government was affected and destroyed by the Declaration of Independence.”
“We still adhere to what is right and agreeable to ourselves; and our attachment to the soil of our ancestors is too strong to be shaken.”
“We now look with earnest expectation to your humble bodies for redress, and that our national existence may not be extinguished before a prompt and effectual interposition is afforded in our behalf.”
“It is with reluctant and painful feelings that circumstances have at length compelled us to seek from you the promised protection, for the preservation of our rights and privileges.  This resort to us is a last one, and nothing short of the threatening evils and dangers that beset us could have forced it upon the nation but it is a right we surely have, and in which we cannot be mistaken—that of appealing for justice and humanity to the United States.”

“Will you listen to us?  Will you have pity upon us?  You are great and renowned—the nation which you represent is like a mighty man who stands in his strength.  But we are small—our name is not renowned.  You are wealthy, and have need of nothing; but we are poor in life, and have not the arm and power of the rich.”
“As his neighbors increased in numbers, his power became less and less, and now, of the many and powerful tribes who once covered these United States, only a few are to be seen—a few whom a sweeping pestilence has left.  The Northern tribes, who were once so numerous and powerful, are now nearly extinct...Shall we, who are remnants, share the same fate?”
“The land on which we stand we have received as an inheritance from our fathers, who possessed it from time immemorial…This right of inheritance we have never ceded, nor ever forfeited.  Permit us to ask, what better right can the people have to a country, than the right of inheritance and immemorial peacable possession?”
“To the land, of which we are now in possession, we are attached.  It is our fathers’ gift: it contains their ashes; it is the land of our nativity, and the land of our intellectual birth.  We cannot consent to abandon it for another far inferior, and which holds out to us no inducements.  We do moreover protest against the arbitrary measures of our neighbor, the state of Georgia, in her attempt to extend her laws over us, in surveying our lands without our consent, and in direct opposition to the treaties and the intercourse law of the United States, and interfering with our municipal regulations in such a manner as to derange the regular operation of our own laws.  To deliver and protect them from all these and every encroachment upon their rights, the undersigned memorialists do most earnestly pray your honorable bodies.  Their existence and future happiness are at stake.  Divest them of their liberty and country, and you sink them in degradation…”
“Your memorialists humbly conceive that such an act [forced removal] would be in the highest degree oppressive.  From the people of these United States, who, perhaps, of all men under heaven, are the most religious and free, it cannot be expected.  Your memorialists, therefore, cannot anticipate such a result.  You represent a virtuous, intelligent, and Christian nation.  To you they willingly submit their cause for your righteous decision.”
Despite these elegant and passionate words, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, thousands of Cherokee and other tribes were forcibly removed, and thousands died…in “a virtuous, intelligent, and Christian nation.” 

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