Group strives to honor heritage

North Shelby resident Gail King, president of Trail of Tears Association Alabama Chapter, convened the group on Jan. 16 at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

“I’m part Creek and Cherokee,” she said. King’s Native American heritage may initiate passion for leadership, but she has a master’s degree in anthropology and archaeology.

TOTA is a non-profit membership organization formed to support Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, designated by congress in 1987. It commemorates the forced removal of Native Americans from homelands in the Southeast to present day Oklahoma during 1838-1839. TOTA entered in a cooperative agreement with the National Park Service in order to promote, protect, and preserve the Trail, and bring awareness to effects of the U.S. Government’s Indian Removal Policy on Native Americans.

The chapter’s recent accomplishments include several ‘removal” sites excavated using latest technology, authenticity certified and marked by plaques, grants written and funds received. A museum is planned for Tuscumbia Landing on the Tennessee River.

Today, the public is more aware of the removal, which was fatal to thousands, mostly small children.

The speaker for the January meeting was Mike Wren of Atlanta, whose presentation was titled, “The Methodists and the Cherokee.” Wren presented old letters, journals, and drawings, reading one Native American’s words: “Faith of the white man and faith of Cherokee are one, united by the same Savior. We’ll meet in heaven.”

He’d spoken this back in early nineteen century, when hundreds walked miles for meetings held “with order and solemnity.”

“Methodists were the most successful in converting Indians to Christianity while maintaining their identity,” Wren said.

Conversion at the risk of death did not occur in the Southeast, where Cherokee converted at their own free will. Methodists emphasized education, establishing schools and universities. Methodists and Baptists related well to Native Americans, because they saw them as equals.

Native people responded by being active church participants and leaders, adopting Christian integrity and values.

TOTA, with chapters in nine states, challenges us to ponder the Bible: “Look unto the rock from which we are hewn,” Isaiah 51:1 NKJV, and learn from the past. Descendants of those Native Americans don’t seek sympathy. Many are successful professionals, such as Gail King, only wishing to honor ancestors. Alabama Chapter’s future projects include certification of a Fort Payne cabin site.

Information on national TOTA is at Nationaltota.org and local chapter at Alabamatrailoftears.org.

Gladys Hodge Sherrer can be reached by e–mail at gsherrer@hotmail.com.