I found Tim Garrison’s March 5 presentation on Indian Removal provocative. Dr. Garrison started by framing how we might culturally define the Southeast through the language, beliefs, agricultural practices, family structures, and more of its peoples and, specifically, the Cherokee (this is developed in Chapter Two of Garrison’s book, posted here.)
Garrison told the lengthy history of Cherokee land cessions – illustrated on this map – as well as competing interpretations of what ceded land meant to the different groups involved. Next, Garrison launched into competitive visions of the meaning of sovereignty, examining how it is defined in Black’s Law. He described two lines of European thought about sovereignty since the Crusades:
- Non-Christians have the same natural rights as Christians
- Non-Christians do certain things that forfeit their rights to sovereignty (like not having agriculture or a political structure that looks like theirs.)
Garrison explained that the Treaty of Hopewell (1785) has been used to argue that Native American tribes maintained sovereignty and that they did not have sovereignty. This kind of competing readings might be done with students with two different colored pens to mark selections that could be used to make either argument.
Garrison then described the changing role Indian Removal played in each of three US periods:
- Post-Revolution (under the Articles of Confederation)
- From the emergence of the Constitution through the War of 1812
- The Removal Era (1815 – 1843)
I was particularly struck by two documents that when paired together provide a nuanced picture of the changing lives and ambitions of the Cherokee people: Cherokee Nation Intercensus Changes, 1809-1824 and A Century of Prophets, 1737-1838.
Finally, Garrison challenged the group to read a set of documents (taken from the book States Rights and Indian Removal: The Cherokee Nation v. The State of Georgia with a set of questions in mind:
- What were the competing interests that had to be considered by the national government?
- Who or what was responsible for removal?
- Was removal inevitable? Why or why not?
- Propose a more agreeable alternative to “the Indian Question” that would have been acceptable at that time and place.
The questions strike me as solid: A balanced set taking you from “on the page” to “between the lines” to “in your judgment” in a way that demands complex – but legitimate and doable – historical thinking.
What do you think of the questions? Would you use them with your students? If yes, what responses did you get? If no, what questions would you use instead? Would you use those documents or different ones?