OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The 175th anniversary of the end of the Trail of Tears on Monday should be a day of celebration because the Native Americans being forced to relocate did not allow themselves to be broken and rebuilt their communities, the chief of the Cherokee Nation said.
Several thousand tribal members died from starvation, exposure and disease along the Trail of Tears, in which the federal government required five tribal nations - Cherokees, Muscogee Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw and Choctaw - to relocate to Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma. Monday marks the anniversary of the arrival of the final group of Cherokees to near present-day Tahlequah.
“It’s really a day of celebration,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said in a phone interview. “We’re not doing it to feel sorry for ourselves, but it truly is a day of celebration that our ancestors - even though they went through all the trials and tribulations … on this day 175 years ago the last detachment showed up and their spirit was not broken and they were ready to rebuild the Cherokee Nation.”
Baker and other Cherokee Nation officials marked the day with an event at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill where a painting by artist Dorothy Sullivan was unveiled. Sullivan has created a series of paintings depicting the forced relocation. The chief also presented a proclamation in honor of the day.
Jack Baker, a Cherokee Nation tribal council member, said the day is a reminder to tribal members that although their ancestors faced great adversity and great difficulty on their trail, they adapted to their new surroundings and re-established the nation.
“And that we still survive as a sovereign nation today and as a prosperous nation,” added Baker, who is not related to the principal chief.
The Cherokees started relocating from their homelands in the southeast in 1838.
In May, a group of 13 Cherokee students will retrace by bike the northern route their ancestors were forced to travel. The students, who range in age from 16 to 24, will travel an average of 60 miles per day for three weeks while they make the 950-mile journey. They’ll start in new Echota, Ga., and cross Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas before ending in Oklahoma.
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