Use the Activities
Putting It All Together
By reading "The Trail of Tears and the Forced Relocation of the Cherokee Nation" students will appreciate the pressures working to force the Cherokees off their homelands and the painful divisions those pressures created within the tribe itself. The following activities will help them apply what they have learned.
Activity 1: Accommodate or resist?
The Cherokees were divided on the issue of adopting aspects of white culture or trying to maintain their traditions unchanged. Ask students to review the readings, consider the following questions, and then hold a classroom discussion based on their answers. What were the effects of the choices made by the groups of Cherokees discussed in the readings? Did accommodation help the Cherokee Nation keep its land? Did it benefit individual Cherokees? How do you think adopting elements of white culture impacted the traditional practices of the Cherokees?
Activity 2: Ridge vs. Ross
Bitter hostility between the supporters of John Ross and those of the Treaty Party continued after the Cherokees established themselves in Indian Territory. Because they had ceded tribal lands without the consent of the tribe, Major Ridge, John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot were murdered in 1839. In the 1860s, Stand Watie, the brother of Elias Boudinot who had barely escaped assassination, led Confederate troops against John Ross's supporters in the Civil War. Historians of the Cherokee removal are equally divided in their appraisals of the two men. Some see Major Ridge and his allies as realists whose treaty was probably the best possible solution in an impossible situation. For others, John Ross was a hero, "a towering figure of resistance to U.S. efforts to uproot and remove the entire Cherokee Nation."¹ Divide students into two groups. Have one represent John Ross and the other Major Ridge and his allies. Have each group select a spokesman to make a presentation defending the position of the person they represent. Ask the class to pretend they are members of the Cherokee National Council. Ask them to vote on whether they should or should not approve the Treaty of New Echota.
Activity 3: Historical Evidence
This lesson on the Trail of Tears uses a wide variety of historical evidence. Ask the students to review the readings and visual materials and make a list of the kinds of evidence presented in the lesson (historical quotations, oral histories, illustrations, photographs, etc.) Have students work in groups and have each group select four pieces of evidence. For each one, ask them to list 1) what kind of evidence it is (speech, letter, map, photograph, etc.), 2) when it was created, 3) what facts it contains, 3) what other kinds of information it provides, 4) why it was created, and 5) what it adds to their understanding of the Cherokee experience and the Trail of Tears.
Activity 4: American Indian Treaties in the Community
Ask students to look at a map of their region that identifies the American Indian tribes that were present at the time of white settlement. Have them look up any treaty agreements between the tribes living in their region and the U.S. government. What provisions did they contain? Did the U.S. adhere to them? Are these tribes still present in the region? Have they disappeared? If they are no longer in the area, where are they now located? If some tribes are present, are there still treaty issues being debated or negotiated today? Students should present their findings to class for discussion on how their research of other tribe's experiences compare with that of the Cherokee Nation.
Activity 5: American Indian Relocation
The Cherokee were only one of the many tribes forced to relocate from their homes and travel to a strange land. Divide the class into four groups and have each group research the history of one of the following tribes now living in Oklahoma, making sure that each tribe is covered: Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole. Ask each group to compare the culture of the tribe it researched, and its forced removal experiences, to that of the Cherokee. Have each group appoint a spokesperson to report its findings to class, including a brief update on its tribal nation in the 21st century. This activity may be expanded by having the class work together to create an exhibit for their school or local library telling the story of the five tribes' journeys from their traditional homelands to Indian Territory.
¹ Stanley W. Hoig, The Cherokees and Their Chiefs: In the Wake of Empire (Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, 1998), 132.