Tahlequah Daily Press

Features

July 9, 2014

Cherokees commemorate Act of Union

TAHLEQUAH — Cherokee Nation dignitaries met on the historic courthouse square Tuesday to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the Act of Union following the end of the Trail of Tears Removal.

The act, signed July 12, 1839, created a unified political body for two groups of Cherokees: the “Old Settlers,” who relocated west prior to the forced removal, and those who came later by force along the 2,200-mile Trail of Tears.

CN Principal Chief Bill John Baker has spent time traveling along the trail, stopping at Blythe’s Ferry, where the majority of the Cherokee ancestors began their journey from their homelands in the East to Indian Territory.

“It was a moving experience,” said Baker. “Many Cherokees had already moved west, but 16,000 remained. In one swoop of a pen, our ancestors were taken from their fields, businesses and homes and put in stockades. They were marched west under armed guard, and 25 percent of those perished along the way.”

Baker pointed out the tribe has celebrated several milestones commemorating the 175th anniversary, but believes Tuesday’s event to be the most significant.

“We know we are stronger together,” said Baker. “It was this act of union that put aside the early settlers government and the Trail of Tears band of Cherokees’ government. They came together and said, ‘We are one, and we will create a government for all Cherokees.’ It’s what brought about the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Building, the oldest building in the state of Oklahoma, and this courthouse, and the male and female seminaries. Together, our people are strong.”

Baker pointed out the three-tiered gorget, polished pendants similar to a necklace, he wore for the occasion. The gorget was given to him by the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma, and contained the seals for the Cherokee Nation, the UKB and the Eastern Band of Cherokee.

“Just like our ancestors, we have started the process of joint re-unification,” said Baker. “This is a great day, a day we celebrate the unification of Cherokees. My hope is that we bring the same re-unification to fruition.”

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree spoke to attendees about the legal importance of the Act of Unification.

“When the Eastern Cherokees traveled the Trail of Tears, they brought their government, too,” said Hembree. “But they knew they would find the western, Old Settlers, who had their own government.”

Hembree mentioned the assassinations of Major Ridge, John Ridge and Elias Boudinot by Chief John Ross supporters. The Ross faction blamed Ridge and others for signing the Treaty of New Echota, which spurred the removal.

“This happened just days before the two groups of Cherokees met to consider this union,” said Hembree. “This act was born out of necessity. If we did not come together, we would lose all we had fought for. It was not advantageous, it was essential.”

Hembree agreed that of all the events commemorating the 175th anniversary of the end of the Trail of Tears.

“We owe it to our ancestors to work toward re-unification,” said Hembree.

In honor of the act, Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden planted a dogwood tree on the courthouse grounds.

Angela Jones, CN Supreme Court justice and emcee for the event, explained the significance of the tree.

“The tree can be found dotting the landscape of the Cherokees’ ancestral homelands , across the Trail of Tears and into the modern homelands throughout northeast Oklahoma,” said Jones. “Dogwoods are of cultural significance to the Cherokees, and they produce white flowers which symbolize peace to the tribe.”

 

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