Beyond the Trail of Tears: A View from the Cherokee Homeland | NCCAT

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Beyond the Trail of Tears: A View from the Cherokee Homeland

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“Beyond the Trail of Tears: A View from the Cherokee Homeland,” is a Summer Institute for K–12 schoolteachers and eligible graduate students. The Institute is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and hosted by the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT). This three-week Institute will be located in Cullowhee, North Carolina and surrounding locations from Sunday June 29 to Saturday July 19, 2014.

In the early years of the nineteenth century, the US government shifted its policy regarding American Indians from one of assimilation to that of relocation. This forced removal of thousands of American Indians from their homes in the East to land west of the Mississippi River, often referred to as the Trail of Tears, is a complex and difficult story on numerous levels. Indian removal was not one event but a decades-long struggle between tribes and the US government, as well as the various state governments surrounding Indian-held lands. Changes in political leadership, diplomatic strategies, lobbying efforts, communication, and negotiation were, in the end, largely ineffective in the effort to maintain traditional tribal homelands. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 set the stage for the ultimate outcome for most of the Indian peoples in the southeastern states. By 1837, 46,000 had been removed, opening up twenty-five million acres for predominantly white settlement.

In this Institute, we will examine the removal, its causes, and its consequences, through the history of the Cherokee experience. The story of the Cherokee removal cannot substitute as the story for all tribes, but it can exemplify this American saga and provide a window into underlying cultural and economic tensions that form a recurring theme in conflicts between people across time.

Collectively, Cherokees comprise the second largest group of American Indians in the present-day United States. The Eastern Band is a federally recognized tribe with more than 13,000 members; the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma includes more than 200,000 tribal members; and another 15,000 are members of the United Keetoowah Band. Although they are now geographically dispersed, they all trace their roots to the ancient mountains of western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, northern South Carolina, and northern Georgia. Cherokee place names are numerous throughout this region and serve as reminders that it is indeed Cherokee homeland.

A set of guiding questions will structure our study throughout the three-week period:

  1. What does it mean to be Cherokee, and how are Cherokee history and ideology grounded in the landscape that Cherokee people view as their homeland?
  2. How did federal policy toward American Indians in the Southeast change in the early nineteenth century?
  3. What key events led up to the relocation of Cherokees and other Southern Indians?
  4. How did adopting European practices impact the Cherokee world?
  5. What methods do historians and archaeologists use to learn about past and present cultures?
  6. How is Cherokee identity defined, maintained, and expressed across the post-removal Cherokee world?
  7. How have different paradigms regarding unity, governance, and decision-making impacted Cherokee life in the past as well as in the present?
  8. What lessons can be learned from the history of the Cherokee people over the past 250 years and how are these lessons relevant to bridging cultural divides in the present?

We will explore this topic from multiple perspectives and through a variety of disciplines including history, archaeology, ethnography, cultural anthropology, and linguistics. Particularly important to our study will be the inclusion of Cherokee faculty members who will enrich our study by sharing their personal as well as professional insights.

Several significant field experiences are included in the Institute schedule to build knowledge and understanding related to the guiding questions. Many of these will be out of doors and may require short hikes. Included in these will be a visit to the Kituwah mound with former Chief Dugan who led the effort to recover the land for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). The most physically rigorous part of the Institute will be a two-day archaeological field experience at Fort Armistead. This is one of twenty-nine forts that were used by the US government during the removal period for the purpose of gathering and temporarily housing the migrating Cherokees. Just over the North Carolina border in Tennessee, it is the only removal-associated facility that is substantially represented in the archaeological record. While at Fort Armistead, we will participate in archaeological excavation with Institute faculty and learn data recovery methods that address specific archaeological research questions. In order to minimize travel time and maximize the time for fieldwork at Fort Armistead, we will spend two nights in hotel accommodations near Murphy, NC rather than in Cullowhee.

Readings selected for the institute will deepen our understanding of the story of Indian removal and the issues identified in the guiding questions. In addition to those authored by faculty members Riggs and Denson, we will be reading selections from the works of other noted scholars of Cherokee studies including John Finger, Theda Perdue, and Michael Green. Included in these readings are selections from Perdue and Green’s The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears, and Finger’s The Eastern Band of the Cherokee. The link to the Project Schedule and Assignments includes a detailed schedule and reading list.

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Application Instructions

  • NCCAT Teacher Services
    276 NCCAT Drive
    Cullowhee, NC
  • [email protected]
  • 828-293-5202
    800-922-0482 (NC only)
    828-293-3740 Fax
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