A-se-quu-i: Free

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Nothing could be worse than now for the Cherokee nation. As the "Removal Act" is evoked into being, a young Cherokee girl wonders how a president, while raising a young Cherokee boy of his own, be so destructive in his actions towards Native Americans. Through these trials she must learn how to cope when her beloved homeland and culture is stripped from her grasp.

Submitted: October 28, 2014

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Submitted: October 28, 2014

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A-se-quu-i

Free

We treaded across the death-ridden land, our legs pounding against the never-ending stretch of wilderness.  I tried my hardest not to look over at my friend Athalia with tears welling up in her eyes for the third time today.  How did we get here?  What had happened to our strong Cherokee nation to become what it was today?  I shuddered at the stories that came to mind of what had happened to us; stories that were so horrific we tried to forget them.  But we simply couldn’t, the events of our past had shaped who we are and what we would become.  From the very moment whites came to our homeland they killed many, and enslaved so many more.  Numerous wars soon followed.  All we had ever done with these people was fight and kill.  They were more relentless and greedy than any other tribe I had ever seen.  They walked in with their noses high and mouths watering.  Some natives such as the famed Sacagawea somehow managed to work with the whites, but for the most part, only slaughter and suffering came with their arrival, as was the case with us.  And so we walked, resembling nothing more than dogs running with our tails between our legs.  As my muscles ached with every step taken, I began to reflect upon the journey that brought us to this forsaken wilderness...

The first time I saw the white people, I was running past the trees, singing as I went.  I almost ran into one of them and his face made my heart stop.  He stared at me with inquisitive yet patronizing eyes.  I wanted to scream and warn the tribe of these strange monsters but my mouth could not open for the fear that was pulsing through my veins. My feet however took me far, far; away from the scary mongrel with large hands and a deceptive smile.

Peeking from behind my mother, I could see many of these strange white figures talking to our leader, Balaaditya.  I asked my mother who these creatures were but she remained silent, like the rest of our tribe as we watched in anticipation for them to leave.  At last they scampered off and we all ran to Balaaditya, asking questions and desiring comforting answers.  Throughout my childhood, I had heard of these white men and their hatred of us since the day they laid eyes upon our homeland.  I understood that these white people had killed so many of our ancestors.  I comprehended that they had taken away our livestock and burned other nearby villages. Even so, I could not believe the evil which twisted their hearts to commit such inexplicable crimes.

Balaaditya managed as best as he could, to explain that these white people wanted our land.  We were befuddled by this notion. Why would they want this land?  We believe that everything we possess is the earth’s ownership, never man’s.  However these strange people, so stuck in their ways, were convinced they should own everything they set their greedy eyes upon, including our homeland.  My heart shook with such a velocity that I was sure that it would stop. We were all so afraid, so confused, and so angry.

It was finally decided that we should develop a written constitution declaring us, the Cherokee, to be a sovereign nation. This would allow us to be legally capable of ceding our lands as stated by a United States policy. We waited in agony to find out whether or not our land that we sang, danced, cried, and were born upon was going to become a heartless white man’s community.

Spotting my good friend Avanish return with a message, I ran to Athalia with a strange queasy feeling rising from the depths of my stomach.  Somehow, Avanish’s grim face told me a story that we all knew was coming.  He looked us in the eye and with a trembling voice said, “Georgia did not recognize our sovereign status.  They say we are only tenants living on state land.”  Tenants; such a temporary word for a thousand year existence.  We all wanted to weep because we knew what was to come.

I ran to my mother who was sobbing bitterly and held her hand.  “It is not over mother.  It is not.”  I smiled at her with all the strength I could muster.  This was my home, my life, and I was not about to see it destroyed by arrogant white men.

There was one person whom we had heard of by the name of Samuel Worcester who, oddly enough wanted to help us.  We were naturally distrustful of him at first. It was incredibly hard to hear what he said when all I could see was his pasty complexion and hazel eyes, the same color as the first mongrel I had encountered on that fateful day.  However in time we learned that he had no ill will towards us.  He began working with Elias Boudinot, the editor of the Cherokee Phoenix to translate the Bible and other materials into our language.  He became close friends with our leaders and often advised them about their political and legal rights under the Constitution and federal-Cherokee treaties.  The Georgian government was not fond of the idea of a white associating with natives.  This brought forth a law that prohibited “white persons” from residing within the Cherokee nation without permission from the state.  Georgia gave Worcester until March 1, 1831 to obtain a license of residency, or leave our Cherokee nation.  Several missionaries including Worcester opposed this and therefore were arrested.  Many more gave up on our hopeless fight for freedom and deserted us.  But Worcester believed in us, he remained after his emancipation from jail.  He challenged Georgia’s attempt to extinguish Indian title to land in the state.  His voice was clear and direct; a light that shone through the dark sin of corrupted opinion, so common throughout the country.

Even with all of Worcester’s efforts, we had no hope for justice.  Young children cried endlessly and women seemed to hide in their huts all day.  Men looked toward the distance wondering if a life with whites was better than no life at all.

Then came the news that Worcester had actually succeeded in winning his case before the Supreme Court.  We were not sure of what this meant but we could sense it was an avenue for peace, such a unfathomable virtue.

I remember the day the trial took place. It was 1832 and my nation was so ready for freedom.  We could almost taste it.  Then a messenger came and the news quickly spread.  “We’ve won!  We’ve won!” Jubilant tears ran down our faces as we all sang in one large chorus, “We won!”

In such a glorious moment, gloom quickly descended upon us.  It had been related to us that President Andrew Jackson, the same man whom we had saved in a previous battle at Horseshoe Bend in 1814, had arrogantly defied the decision of the court and ordered our removal.  He was quoted saying, “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it” This one action was worse than a thousand gunshots to the head.

The next weeks seemed to pass in a blur as we discussed a way to get our lands back.  It had been related to us that a group of about 100 Cherokee people signed a Treaty of Echota, justifying the removal of their lands east of the Mississippi River in exchange for land in Indian Territory and $5 million.  This news made us furious and puzzled.  Yet we were certain that they would get the punishment they deserved according to the new law established; anyone who agreed to give up tribal land was to be killed.  As our own Cherokee tribes began to weaken at the white man’s grasp, we felt alone and despised.  Our lives were overflowing with death and long-lasting sorrows.

Resistance came quickly after we got the order to move west by Jackson.  He issued a “removal act” which demanded that all Native Americans must move west of the Mississippi River to “Indian Territory”.  It was too much for all tribes, even our rivals.  Our Chief, John Ross, decided to oppose the New Echota Treaty.  Despair was filling every fiber of our being.  Should we even dare to hope?  Hope was fruitless; it only brought forth depression and devastation.  And it was only the beginning...

We had lost the battle forever.  The United States, a country full of freedom and liberties, forced out 17,000 Native Americans, the oldest inhabitants of a country so entangled in greed, in contradictions.  To see us so disorganized, so despondent, was the worst punishment of all.

We were rounded up like cattle in the summer of 1838, a blistering hot day to match our blistering warped hearts.  I couldn’t believe I was actually leaving.  We were loaded on boats like cargo to travel across the Tennessee, Ohio, Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers into the “Indian Territory”.

And here we walked, with our heads hung, our feet calloused, our pride bruised forever. Over 4,000 Native Americans had perished on this long and debilitating journey; I was not one of them, much to my regret.  Life didn’t seem necessary, for what’s a life without its people?  And that is the very thing that was lost in that deadly trip away from the one thing I loved most; my home.

 

We laughed as we raced across the rooms of our home.  A maid called for us to stop at once but we didn’t care.  Tag was our favorite game and couldn’t be stopped even as the rain pelted against the window frames.

“I’ll get you Junior!” I yelled making my legs go faster and faster, quicker and quicker.  Almost running into a door, I heard Jackson’s voice, “Yes, I do think that that would be a splendid idea!”  I pressed my ear to the door, hoping to discover something important, as he always kept secrets.

Living in such a marvelous place as Hermitage, I often forgot how nice our lives truly were.  We got the finest of food and clothing, as well as many games which entertained my brothers and I for hours on end.  The Jackson’s had taken us in, all for different reasons.  Junior, one of a set of twins whose father was our mother’s brother, was taken as an infant and Jackson Hutchings, whom we called Jack, came after his parents died.

My story was a little bit different.  I was found beside my deceased biological mom by Jackson, in 1813 and sent to Hermitage.  I always wondered why Jackson would do such a thing.  Just my skin color alone made people laugh or wonder what I was.  I didn’t even have to open my mouth in order for somebody to call me a horrible name.  Nevertheless I was here and at the moment very interested in what Jackson had to say.

“I’m not concerned with what they think.  I know that this will benefit the entire nation.  It will grant so much more land to us.  What could possibly be wrong with that?”

Hushed whispers arose from Jackson’s comment, a few angry voices protruding through.  I tried my best to make out what they were saying but failed to do so.  Whatever Jackson was talking about, I yearned to learn and understand.  Maybe if I knew something no one else knew, I could be someone special, not like the piece of dirt the rest of the world saw me as.  Maybe I could show Jackson that there was more to me than just a mind filled with savage thoughts.

The next day I was able to spot Jackson talking to a friend of his.  His forehead was creased, the look of stress so prominent upon his warped face. Since yesterday I had been tip-toeing my way around Hermitage, attempting to attain any additional information I could about his strange secret. I thought all was well until I felt a shadow on my back.  I turned and shaking with horror, realized that it was him.  Staring hard, I tried to comprehend what emotion was upon Jackson’s face but wasn’t able to do so.

“Lyncoya, go on back and play with Junior.”  His tone and demeanor sent me scampering away like a scared kitten, so deathly afraid of its own owner.

The next few days were extremely odd.  I played and did school like always, but many times I would look up and see Jackson staring at me with a confused expression.  I would be confused myself.  What was he thinking?

As I grew up, I learned that the many “secrets” I had acquired from Jackson were about my own people, the Cherokee and other Native American tribes.  I always thought about what my family was like back home.  The hate that I felt here, in this civilization filled with whites was at times too great.  Sometimes I would just walk outside and stare at the sky, wondering if I’d ever feel like I belonged.

Time passed like sunlight fading through the clouds, and certain topics that I had heard as a young boy were brought up once more.  I heard rumblings about a “removal act” but had no idea of what that meant.  It was only until one day when I asked Jackson directly.

He was sitting on the couch, nose in a book.  Though my heart was racing I asked, “Jackson, what is this removal act I keep hearing about?” He put down his book and didn’t say anything for a long time.  Then he cleared his throat and asked in a husky tone, “Where did you hear of that?”  He sounded defensive, maybe even a little frightened.  I looked down at the ground, ashamed of my actions.

“Well it’s not your concern, please let me be”.  And with that, he abruptly got up and left.  I was puzzled by Jackson’s actions.  What was this act that he was so determined not to tell me about?  Chills ran up and down my spine. Somehow I felt a strange connection to the matter that I just couldn’t ignore.

Jackson pushed heavily for me to go to West Point University but it was politically impossible to allow a person of my background to be educated, even if I was raised by the President himself.  Instead, I went to Nashville to be a saddle-maker.

I hated to leave my home, though my true homeland was far away.  Flashes of that horrid time, sitting by my dead and bleeding mother sobbing while a strange white man took me up on his horse came to my mind and I shuddered.  His voice boomed and scared me half to death.  His words seemed like strange noises one would make when they were in pain.  Though I was a small child, I didn’t want to leave my home.  And now I was doing it again.  

Looking back and waving goodbye to Junior brought such sorrow I wanted to run towards them and never go away.  I worried that I would never see them again which added greatly to my pain.  

But that same man, with his impatient smile, the one who previously thought me a pet to play with, now had tears in his eyes though he tried his best not to show it.  Jackson might’ve never been my father, but he was as close to a strong leader as I ever would have gotten.  Something bothered me about him though, like there was more to his demeanor than he let on.  I tried not to think about these things as I set off for the journey that was awaiting me.  I would need my strength.  I had to continue, or perish in my regrets and questions.

 

I worked endlessly, plowing and tending the infertile lands.  My hands were like twigs, snapped and cut dry; much like my own spirit. The sun never shone, my eyes never gleamed with laughter.  Instead I was alone, one in a small village.  Athalia and the rest of my friends and family died due to either disease, exhaustion, or both.  Only my sister and I remained in our lineage.  It wasn’t right, it just didn’t make any sense.

No matter the circumstances I tried my best to be brave.  I began to see that my ability to live through this trying time should be used wisely, and attempted to do all I could to create a happier work environment, even in the midst of our grueling labor. Every hour we broke our backs for the land only produced some few seedlings of grain. Farming used to be a joy, now it was simply a matter of survival.

I kept my ears open for any news I could find about the happenings towards the east.  I began to recognize some of the strange words that the white people spoke whenever traders would come, which was seldom if ever.  I was older, hardened by the past, but I was determined to learn everything I could about my broken Cherokee nation.  I loved it dearly and began to see that using my knowledge of what was occurring in the present could help to save what was left of my people.

One day, I caught sight of a traveler and ran to listen.  I tried my best to understand what he was discussing with another white man.  I heard the word “bank” several times and observed their grim faces.  I only wished that this country was experiencing our hurt and suffering which was such a daily occurrence.  I also heard the word “Jackson” which brought odd laughter to the white man’s lips.  Just hearing that horrid man’s name created a stir of emotions, mainly anger.  What was that vile creature planning now?  I only wished I could know their ambiguous language in order to find out.

Months rolled into one another as the sun began to fade.  I missed the bright glow that it always gave just before I rose in the morning.  Here, it seemed to be overtaken by clouds and then diminish greatly as the day ended.  Word came of war with the Seminole Indians.  Apparently, this group had managed to resist the whites demand for removal in Florida; however they eventually ceded their land to the government and agreed to move to Indian Territory within three years.  Refusing to be stopped, their Chieftain Osceola staged an uprising to defend their lands.  This caused a war that had dragged on for years, ultimately ending in a truce.  The news lifted my spirits as well as my envy.  It didn’t seem right that they were allowed to remain at home.  It simply made me want to try harder.  A spark was ignited that day, a voice whispering in my ear not to give up, the fight is not over yet.

Through the years that followed, I listened hard for what my purpose was on this desolate land. I often cried out to the wind, wondering if there was truly any life on this unforgiving reservation.  But through our misery, my people began to unite.  We remained small, but there was a spirit of courage that had begun to grow in all of us.

It was midday and my sister came running full speed calling my name.  Her face looked so happy, an emotion I hadn’t seen for a long time.  She came over and breathlessly brought forth a string of words which I could barely keep up with.

“There’s a man here to see you!  Come!”

“But Privani I have to-“

“Just come!”

I couldn’t understand the meaning of this.  A man was here to see me?  What could that mean?  Despite my sister’s joyful feelings, I was afraid and yet terribly curious all at once.

The moment we approached, he smiled in a friendly way and almost embraced me.  He looked so utterly delighted.  His face gleamed and his hair seemed to fly with the wind.  He took my hand and I sensed I knew him

“My dearest”, he whispered, so enamored with the sight of me.  I stared hard, deep into his eyes and with a sudden wave of euphoria, realized it was my long-lost friend Avanish.  He had vanished just a few weeks before we were forced out of our homeland.  I thought for sure he was dead.  To see him now caused me to reflect upon our childhood, and our relationship which had grown throughout those good years.

I cried and took his hand.  We raced across the wilderness, me showing him what we had as our meager possessions.  He smiled nonetheless and said that my home was his home.  We held hands and stared at the clouds, picturing life just beyond the horizon.  We were finally together.  I tried to ask him where he had gone but he only said, “I am here now”.  I could tell though that the white men had captured him.  I may never understand them, but at least they brought back my dear Avanish.

He did however, mention several times about a Native American boy who had lived with Jackson.  Just the thought of this sickened me.  How could the boy stand to be around such a despicable human being?  Avanish told me how the boy had gone to Tennessee to be saddle-maker and tragically died there of tuberculosis.

Death; it surrounded our lives, filled up our hearts and sapped all joy from our bodies.  Yet there was hope, not for our homeland, but for our children and children’s children to remember who we were and how we had got here.  I believed from then on that my descendants would see their heritage and never forget the life their nation led as one, together and alive.

I dreamt many nights about my abundant life back home and would see my mother’s face, so ashen with tears, devoid of the joy she used to possess.  And there was another boy who would visit me in my dreams.  He looked strong, but had hurt eyes.  He would look towards me, smile and say hello.

I am Lyncoya, he would say. Hi tsa-la-gi?  Are you Cherokee?  And I would look towards him with a radiant smile and reply,

 

Ti tsa-la-gi. I am a Cherokee, strong, courageous, and free.

 

 

 

 

 


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