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Trail of Tears Study Act a must
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Holli Deal Bragg
    Long before my Caucasian ancestors arrived in this country, my Native American ancestors lived here.
    They fished from our rivers, gathered food from our fields and woodlands, hunted wild game, and lived a rather peaceful existence. The Eastern bands differed from the Western “Indians,” who were more likely to take scalps.
    I can’t say I condone taking scalps and killing, but I can understand the Native American’s anger and outrage at being pushed from their way of life, from their livelihood, by the encroachment of the white man.
    Like slavery, the deeds done to the Native American were deplorable. No one had a right to push them from the lands upon which they lived. They “owned” the land as much or more as a white man who filed a claim on the land did, although most Native Americans felt you could no more “own” land than you could own air or water.
    They were here first.
    Again, like slavery, there is nothing that can be done about the hateful, horrible things that happened in the past. And no one today “owes” anyone for what happened over 100 years ago, regardless of history or race. However, acknowledging history, whether it is in pride or in shameful regret, is a good thing.
     So, it is a positive move for President Bush to have recently signed into law the Trail of Tears Study Act. This act will require the National Park Service to finish researching the routes taken in 1838 when American Indians were forcibly marched from their ancestral homelands to areas designated as “reservations.”
    Back then, most whites considered the Native American an inferior human being, just like some considered anyone of a different race as inferior. The fear of anything different, fueled by the extreme differences in customs, clothing, and lifestyles, led to conflict.
    How else should the Natives  have reacted? How would we react if another race came here and tried pushing us out? Oh, that’s right. We would provide them free medical care, free food, a free ride and welcome them with open arms.
    As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what the Eastern bands did at first. Where did their hospitality get them? A long walk on the Trail of Tears. Forced away from the mountains and the rivers they called home to be herded like cattle to a strange land where they were mistreated and told what to do and when to do it.
    These were people, human beings just as much as the white settlers who displaced them and took over their homelands.
    When the Trail of Tears was first designated in 1987, two main parts of the routes as well as water routes and other areas were not documented. The Trail of Tears Study Act will lead to learning more about the Cherokee and Creeks, where their villages were located, and what they endured on the sad, long journey.
    As much as slavery is a part of American history, so is the story of the Trail of Tears.
    Both are shameful accounts of how the white man mistreated other races. Both are painful to those whose ancestors are from those races, and often, thinking about the suffering and unfairness breeds anger. This is understandable, yet we must keep in mind this is history, it happened long ago and we cannot change it. We can only remember and hope it never happens again.
    The Trail of Tears was the creation of President Andrew Jackson, who ordered the removal of Cherokee, Creek and other tribes from the Southeastern states. There are accounts of how he fed the Native Americans spoiled, maggot-infested meat and purposefully gave them blankets infected with smallpox. Countless died on the long trek to Oklahoma.
    All my life I have been fascinated by my Native heritage. I found my first arrowhead as a child, and remember searching for artifacts with my mother near the Ogeechee River while my father tilled the fields on his tractor.
    My most treasured find was a spear head I spotted while riding horseback in my uncle’s field off Old Groover Mill Road. My collection recently grew when our former managing editor Eddie Ledbetter shared with me some pieces of pottery and an arrowhead, found along the Ogeechee.
    These pieces were once used by Cherokees, Creeks and possibly other tribes in their daily living. As I walk along local creek banks and river banks searching for these links to days gone by, I can’t help but feel sadness thinking about how the Natives were ripped from the land they must have loved as much as I do.
    It doesn’t change history, but I am glad Bush signed the Trail of Tears Study Act.
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