I’m pleased to be here. It’s been some time since I’ve attended one of these meetings, and it’s great to see so many familiar faces still standing and with us. The conversations I had last night and today echoed many of the thoughts I plan to share, proving that great minds think alike.

What I want to talk about today is the need for this organization to pause and reflect on both its past accomplishments and future direction. Part of my concern is that we, as chapters, may not be communicating as effectively as we should. This lack of communication means I may not know what you’re doing, and you may not know what I’m doing. From my perspective, it looks like there are some gaps we need to address.

Somebody pointed out that the Trail of Tears legislation is now 28 years old. During that time, we’ve done a lot of work locating and marking routes. While there is still more to be done, the trail is finally marked and set up as the National Park Service wanted. However, I think there are other things we need to be doing as an organization if we are to tell the full story of Indian Removal. I want to talk about some of those today.

First, we need to pay more attention to the removal of other tribes. Despite the focus of the legislation on the Cherokees, we have managed to gather some information related to other tribes, including interpretations. States with signs related to one tribe should undertake research to ensure that information relevant to other tribes is included in the interpretation. This is especially important for states like Alabama, Tennessee, and Arkansas. Common sites on the water routes in Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas that have not been interpreted need to include information about the other tribes as well.

This effort needs to be undertaken not only for fairness to the other tribes but also for the general public. Particular attention should be given to the Muscogee Creeks who moved out of the Cherokee Nation with the Cherokees. We need to look at those Creek families that were with the Cherokees in contingents like the Vann contingent and ensure that our interpretations recognize their presence.

Some of this work can be done when replacing markers. Many of the earlier markers are already showing the effects of weather and will need to be replaced. I urge you to consider using a more durable material, such as the metal alloy signage we used in Trail of Tears Park. These signs have remained fresh-looking since 2011.

Arkansas has the biggest job in marking routes and waterways used by all the tribes, but we have the legislative authority to do so. The Arkansas legislature passed a heritage trails bill in 2009, and many of the people involved in our chapter were initially pushing for this. Research is underway for Chickasaw and Choctaw routes, and we are starting on Seminole removal through the state.

To get people involved, research must come first. We need to understand not just which peoples were at a particular place but also why they were there. Context is crucial for the public to fully understand the significance of these sites.

Besides working with other tribes, our second task is writing out the results of our research. As a former teacher, I know that dissemination of research is the last step in any project. We need to put this information into a form that the public can access. This might include historical treatments of the Trail of Tears for each tribe and developing brochures to go with interpretive signs.

It’s also crucial that we get this information into public schools. Currently, most students in Arkansas know about the Cherokees but are unaware of the other tribes and the broader context of removal. We need to address this gap in knowledge to change public attitudes.

We also need to reexamine the causes of Indian Removal. Often, we fall back on familiar reasons like Andrew Jackson’s policies or the push for cotton culture. However, these were not the primary causes. For example, the idea of Indian Removal came from the Georgia Compact of 1802, not Jackson. Jackson’s role was more about enforcing existing policies.

Finally, we must address the removal of African-descended people with the tribes. This topic has often been ignored, yet it’s crucial to understanding the full impact of Indian Removal. The federal government was intent on moving enslaved people west, and this needs to be part of our interpretation.

Researching the removal of African-descended people involves looking at various sources, including courthouse records and understanding the different labels used for these individuals. It’s a challenging task, but necessary for a complete understanding of the Trail of Tears.

In conclusion, we need to continue our research, improve our communication, and ensure that we are telling the full story of Indian Removal, including the experiences of African-descended people. If you need any help with research, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the Sequoyah National Research Center. Thank you.

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