Extra credit or field experience for your history students: Viewing of a coming PBS program on the Trail of Tears, and a panel discussion featuring R. David Edmunds, one of the advisors to the PBS American Experience crew that made the film.
The story of Saturday, May 26, 1838, a day which began an event the Cherokees would call Nu-No-Du-Na-Tlo-Hi-Lu, “The Trail Where They Cried,” will be told from a new perspective at the premiere of “Trail of Tears” at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 10, in the Davidson Auditorium at the School of Management.
Production background information is available on the PBS We Shall Remain site.
The third film in the five-part We Shall Remain series produced by PBS’ American Experience, “Trail of Tears” takes a new look at the United States government’s forced removal of thousands of Cherokees from their homes in the Southeastern United States, driving them toward Indian Territory in Eastern Oklahoma.
Admission is free; seating is first come, first served. The film premiere will be followed by a panel discussion with We Shall Remain executive producer Sharon Grimberg; Native American filmmaker Chris Eyre; and series adviser Dr. R. David Edmunds, the UT Dallas Anne and Chester Watson Professor in American History.
Especially for AP history students, this panel should provide a lot of grist for the thinking mills on questions about civil rights, genocidal actions, duties of citizens, and migration, immigration and settlement of the U.S.
North Texas high school teachers and students have great luck living in an area that includes the University of North Texas, Texas Christian University, Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas at Dallas, the University of Texas at Arlington, and the University of Dallas. This film premiere is one more piece of that luck.
It’s a compelling story that is often mistold. According to UTD’s press office:
For years, the Cherokee had resisted removal from their land in every way they knew. Convinced that white America rejected Native Americans because they were “savages,” Cherokee leaders established a republic with a Euro-American style legislature and legal system.
Many Cherokees became Christians and adopted Westernized education for their children. Their visionary principal chief, John Ross, would even take the Cherokees’ case to the Supreme Court, where he won a crucial recognition of tribal sovereignty that still resonates.
Though in the end the Cherokees’ embrace of “civilization” and their landmark legal victory proved no match for white land hunger and military power, the Cherokee people were able to build a new life in Oklahoma, far from the land that had sustained them for generations.
Edmunds, who is of Cherokee descent, is proud to be a part of the We Shall Remain crew because the series breaks with typical portrayals of Native Americans.
“The thing that sets the We Shall Remain series apart is its ability to get away from two of the biggest stereotypes of Native Americans: the Indian as a warrior and the Indian as a victim,” said Edmunds. “The portrayal of warfare between Native Americans and whites is abandoned for a view of the very civilized, very adaptive ways of the Cherokees, as they try to assimilate to imported culture in order to remain on their lands.
“Additionally, when you see ‘Trail of Tears,’ you’ll see Native Americans as actors in their own destiny. You’ll see them make decisions, which sometimes work and sometimes don’t, but it’s all part of the American experience.”