It was 175 years ago that the final group of Cherokees ended the journey across the Trail of Tears. The detachment arrived on March 24, 1839, in Indian Territory near present-day Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
“We will remember and honor the sacrifices made by our ancestors. The Cherokees on the trip gave up so much—homes, lands and local family traditions. They endured unfathomable hardships and tragedy,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “Collectively, they never gave up and never relinquished the fortitude to continue another day’s travel, one step at a time, on the trail to modern-day Oklahoma.”
The first detachment of Cherokees was forcibly removed from their homelands in the southeast beginning in 1838.
Baker memorialized the conclusion of the forced removal with a proclamation declaring March 24 as “Cherokee Nation Remembrance Day.”
“We are here today in Tahlequah as a sovereign government with a living culture because of their perseverance. It is a strength most of us cannot imagine today, but it is in our blood and in our DNA,” Baker said. “Our people were stripped of everything, withstood generations of termination policies, and yet that fire to live and thrive would not be extinguished.
“We should all be proud the Cherokee Nation is now a national model for economic, political and cultural sustainability. As Cherokee people, we are stronger today than ever before.”
The remembrance event was held at the Cherokee Heritage Center, where museum officials displayed, for the first time in public, a petition by Principal Chief John Ross asking the U.S. government not to move forward with the forced removal of his people. These papers will be viewable by the public through April.
As part of the day’s events, Cherokee artist Dorothy Sullivan unveiled the third piece of a series of paintings depicting scenes from the Trail of Tears. All three paintings were commissioned by the National Parks Service and will be on display at the Cherokee Heritage Center.
Monday’s commemoration kicks off a series of events that are being planned by a committee established by Chief Baker with appointments from Cherokee Nation’s three branches of government. It is chaired by Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree and includes Cherokee Nation Tribal Council Attorney Dianne Barker Harrold and Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Justice Angela Jones.
Events commemorating milestones for the Cherokee people in Indian Territory will be held between now and Cherokee National Holiday later this summer. Cherokee National Holiday annually commemorates the signing of the 1839 Cherokee Constitution.