A group of women and men prayerfully retracing one of the routes of the Cherokee 1836-’38 “Trail of Tears” will conclude their 1,000-mile journey of repentance and reconciliation with a gathering of native elders and Christian ministers Saturday morning.
Through their journey, and along the way, the group members have been offering their repentance for the atrocities of the long-ago Trail of Tears, which marks its 175th anniversary this year. The group’s effort, which the women and men who are pursuing the 1,000-mile pilgrimage call the Trail of Tears Prayer Journey, is being undertaken in the spirit of offering healing and reconciliation as they go.
On the way, the pilgrims experienced a ceremony involving native flute-playing, a deep-woods pipe ceremony, reconciliation gatherings with Native Americans, powerful emotional realizations, and vivid spiritual experiences.
The prayer pilgrimage began on June 8 at New Echota (near Calhoun, Ga.), the historical site of the former Capital of the Cherokee Nation. The Peacemakers group, traveling by car, then made Trail of Tears-related stops in Chattanooga, Pulaski, Bon Aqua, Bolivar, Memphis and Randolph (all in Tennessee); Marion, Forrest City, Little Rock, Russellville, and Fort Smith (all in Arkansas); and finally, Tahlequah.
The Peacemakers for Sacred Healing gathering will conclude the 2013 Trail of Tears journey on Saturday, June 15, at 2 p.m., at the Cherokee Heritage Center, 21192 S. Keeler Drive, Park Hill.
At the kickoff event in Calhoun, Ga., the speakers included Pastor Samuel Mosteller, president of the Georgia Southern Christian Leadership Conference and descendant of both Creek and Cherokee Native Americans. Tom Bluewolf of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians provided Native flute music and a reconciliation ceremony. Multi-faith prayers were offered for the completion of the pilgrimage.
The Prayer Journey, organized by Peacemakers for Sacred Healing, is meant to help bring about national reconciliation with America’s First People.
From 1836-’38, some 17,000 Americans who happened to be Cherokee Indians were driven at gunpoint to abandon their flourishing farms, prosperous homes, and well-developed towns and villages largely in Georgia and travel, mainly by foot, over a thousand miles to the unknown lands of Arkansas and Oklahoma, where they were forced onto reservations. One-fourth of the Native population died along the way. When they arrived at the end of the long march, there were few children and elders remaining. Unmarked graves span the length of the trail. All of this was made legal by the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
One of the historical Trail of Tears routes is being retraced by the Peacemakers group prayerfully and tearfully, repenting for these fundamental violations of the basic human rights of the first Americans.
“We will hear the stories of their descendants and honor the memory of those who suffered and died along the way,” said Peacemakers spokeswoman Claire Daugherty. “We will offer symbolic gifts to those who share their stories with us as well as to the educational institutions and museums that preserve this story so that such a tragedy can never happen again. And we will ask forgiveness of the ancestors.”
The Prayer Pilgrimage is co-sponsored by the United Native American Council, the American Clergy Leadership Conference, Family Federation for World Peace, Kingmaker Magazine, Women’s Federation for World Peace and the Sufi Order of Villa Rica.