Cherokee Nation Officials Honor Lives Lost on Trail of Tears

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker (l) and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden (r) plant roses.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker (l) and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden (r) plant roses.

TAHLEQUAH, OKLAHOMA — Cherokee Nation officials hosted a public event Monday at John Ross Museum to reflect on two significant dates in Cherokee history that led to the forced removal of Cherokee people, known as the Trail of Tears.

Officials reflected on the May 23, 1836, ratification of the Treaty of New Echota. The treaty gave the Cherokee people two years to move west from their native homelands in the east to Indian Territory. The second date marked the beginning of the forced removal, May 24, 1838.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker honored the estimated 4,000 lives lost along the Trail of Tears with a Cherokee Rose planting ceremony. There are seven rose bushes planted to recognize the seven clans.

“As Cherokee people, we remember and honor the sacrifices made by our ancestors. Those who made the trek to Indian Territory and those who perished on that brutal journey here to Oklahoma will always remain in hearts,” said Baker. “It is especially poignant to commemorate the anniversary of the Treaty of New Echota at the John Ross Museum. Chief Ross not only served the Cherokee people through our darkest chapter, but also spearheaded the Cherokee Nation’s resurgence and rebirth. That history and the fortitude of our people define who we are today and the Cherokee Nation is thriving and stronger than ever.”

During the ceremonial planting of Cherokee Roses, Baker used dirt from North Carolina that was collected from Kituwah mound, known as the mother town of the Cherokees where oral traditions hold all Cherokees originated from.

Throughout the rest of the week, guests may also contribute a small amount of dirt from their home and add it to the ground to honor those who were lost. There will be a limited amount of the ceremonial dirt available at the welcome desk inside the museum.

As part of the day’s events, Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism unveiled a new electronic database inside the John Ross Museum. It showcases the history of those buried in the Ross Cemetery, which is located directly east of the museum.

The historic Ross Cemetery is where many past Cherokee leaders are buried, including Chief John Ross and his family. It is also the final resting place for many who survived the Trail of Tears and is still an active cemetery today.

The database is searchable by name and shows the location, historical information and photos of those who have passed. As Cherokee Nation officials learn more about those buried in Ross Cemetery, and families share their stories or photos, more information can be added to the database, making it an ever expanding body of work.

Monday’s event is the third in a series focused on commemorating the 175th year since the end of the Trail of Tears. A committee established by Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker, with appointments from the three branches of Cherokee Nation government, is planning the series of events. 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.

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