Published September 16, 2017
TUSCUMBIA, ALABAMA — Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. led a Cherokee delegation to Tuscumbia, Alabama, last week to discuss local preservation efforts of a historic Trail of Tears site.
Tuscumbia Landing, located in northern Alabama along the Tennessee River, was the transfer point of some Cherokees on the Trail of Tears from a rail line to steam ships for further removal west.
The forced removal of Cherokees in the 1830s, known as the Trail of Tears, involved the migration of about 16,000 Cherokees from the Southeastern part of the United States to present-day Oklahoma. Nearly a quarter of the Cherokees removed died in stockades or on the trail due to starvation, disease, exposure or other circumstances.
Hoskin said his mission was to establish a government-to-government relationship with local cities and to reaffirm the Cherokee Nation’s role as a federally recognized tribe with which developers of the Landing must consult.
“I had concerns going into our visit over the influence of so-called ‘state tribes’ or other organizations posing as ‘tribes’ on development of the site,” said Hoskin.
Hoskin met with various local leaders during his visit, including Tuscumbia Mayor Kerry Underwood, Sheffield Mayor Ian Sanford, representatives from the Trail of Tears Association and its Alabama chapter and representatives of the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area.
“At the conclusion of our visit it was clear that local leaders as well the Trail of Tears Association respect Cherokee Nation’s position on fraudulent ‘tribes.’ They not only understand our position, they made it clear that they very much want the input of the Cherokee Nation and other federally recognized tribes in local historic development,” said Hoskin.
The Landing is owned by the city of Sheffield but is located near the city of Tuscumbia. The area is a former Sheffield city park that was closed for historical preservation reasons. The site’s development is protected by federal law.
The United States National Park Service has studied the potential development of the Landing as a historic site. Development of the site will involve consultation with Cherokee Nation.
“Tuscumbia Landing provides opportunity for discussion of very early day railroad travel and steamboat travel in the removal era,” said Troy Wayne Poteete, executive director of the Trail of Tears Association. “The city of Sheffield wants to develop the site to culturally enrich the area. The National Park Service has a congressional mandate to tell the removal story, and it is important that their interpretive efforts be guided by the Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears Association to ensure accuracy. Together, all entities can bring about a site that respectfully tells the story of removal.”
The Cherokee delegation–including Cherokee National Treasure Tommy Wildcat, Special Projects Officer and historian Roy Hamilton, and Hoskin–visited the Landing. Hoskin also reviewed potential development plans with local officials.
“As the mayor, I made a commitment to Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. to work closely with the Cherokee Nation and the state representatives of the Trail of Tears Association in order to maintain the integrity of an accurate historical presentation on the Tuscumbia Landing site project,” said Kerry Underwood, mayor of Tuscumbia. “The tragedy of the removal is the Cherokee Nation’s story, and as a federally recognized tribe, it is our intention to work with them to share it.”
The site is years away from development. Potential development is designed to bring visitors to the site to learn about removal and to protect the area for further research. Development will require further discussion, said Hoskin.
Hoskin and the Cherokee delegation exchanged gifts with local leaders and were honored guests at Oka Kapassa, an annual Native American festival in Tuscumbia.
The Cherokee delegation also met with other local historic preservation leaders during the visit, including Chickasaw elder Robert Perry and his wife, Annie. The delegation participated in the “Walk of Life” remembrance of the Trail of Tears organized by the Perrys.
“Cherokee Nation has new friends in the Tuscumbia area and a new optimism that an important site along the Trail of Tears will be preserved and developed in an appropriate manner,” said Hoskin.