By RICHARD POWELSON
Scripps Howard News Service
February 16, 2006
The agency already works to preserve 2,200 miles of federally designated trails to educate the country about the tragic relocation of 16,000 Cherokee Indians from homes mostly in Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia. They were forced in the winter of 1838-39 to march about 800 miles to newly designated Indian Territory in what became Oklahoma, and more than 4,000 reportedly died.
"The Department (of the Interior) recognizes the importance of telling the complete story of the Trail of Tears," John Parsons, associate regional director of the Park Service, told the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks.
Chief Chadwick Smith of The Cherokee Nation welcomed the progress on the legislation, although it was the first action since some legislators filed a bill last June.
"We've already been waiting nearly 170 years," Smith said when asked if he thought Congress was moving fast enough to include all trails used in the historic forced march.
Smith told the subcommittee that the march was "one of the darkest chapters of American history."
Adding federal markers to all the trails and showing them on maps will help educate new generations to the mistakes in taking Indians lands and forcing them to move, Smith said.
"The United States government must not repeat the mistakes it made in the past," he said. "It must honor its word and forever remember the inspiring story of the Cherokee spirit. At stake is the integrity of the United States and its word."
The study, if approved by Congress, would cost about $175,000, the Park Service estimated. If the Park Service recommends adding the extra 2,000 or so miles of land and water routes, it would cost about $300,000 per year to manage the area, Parsons said.
At the hearing, Smith unfurled a 10-foot-long, 3-foot-wide banner that was a copy of the original one that was signed by 17,000 Cherokees to protest their planned relocation from ancestral lands in the East to the Midwest.
Smith said part of the federal reason for the relocation likely was the discovery of gold on Indian land in Georgia.
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