Many times over the past years I have made a pilgrimage on a cold winter’s day to Hiawassee, TN. to a wildlife refuge where thousands of Sandhill Cranes spend the winter. It is in very rural Meigs County, far off the beaten path, miles from any interstate. The first time I went I was surprised to discover that the cranes were not the only local attraction. Just a couple of miles down the road from the refuge, perched along the river, is a Trail of Tears Memorial. On this Indigenous People’s Day, I have been thinking about this memorial and the many atrocities our country has committed, and continues to commit, against the original citizens of this land.
The memorial was the work of two women from Meigs County who wanted to make sure that this part of their county’s history was not forgotten. The site of the park is where thousands of Cherokees were taken after being forced from their homes, then forced to this staging area. From there they were taken across the river to the long march west to what were essentially foreign lands.
The heart of the memorial is large slabs of marble, one for each Southeastern state, which contain the names of all the people removed from that area. How do we know who all the people were? The year before the removal, President Andrew Jackson ordered a census. Lists of the names of the Cherokees were made, and the next year soldiers appeared with the lists to remove everyone named on them. This was a meticulously planned genocide, a part of our history we should not forget.
Here is a prayer for this day:
O Great Spirit, God of every people and every tribe, we come to you as your many children, to ask for your forgiveness and guidance. Forgive us for the colonialism that stains our past, the ignorance and arrogance that allowed us to think that we could claim another's home for our own. Guide us through your wisdom to restore the truth of our heritage. Help us to confront the racism that divides us as we confess the pain it has caused to the human family. Call us to kinship. Mend the hoop of our hearts and make us live in justice and peace, through Jesus Christ, the One who came that all people might live in dignity. Amen.