As part of our classroom study of Westward Expansion, we took time to focus specifically on the Trail of Tears. This incident was used to exemplify the policies of the U.S. in regards to treatment of Native Americans. Classroom discussion was bolstered by question 10 on page 91 of the chapter “Indian Removal.”
It asks “If the United States government consistently broke its treaties with American Indian nations, why do you think they negotiated treaties in the first place?” as well as John Burnett’s statement on page 95 under number 3 “Truth is, the facts are being concealed… school children of today do not know that we are living on lands that were taken from a helpless race…” Geographical work was done to show the path of the Trail of Tears as well as to answer the question of why the term “Indians” was used in relation to the actual location of India.
The most powerful reaction from students came when they were asked to apply the situation to their own lives: “What would you do if someone came to your house with guns and told you to leave and march for a very long time and distance and give up everything? How would this make you feel?”
The resultant discussion was rich with questions and comments circling around the fact that native Americans were here long before European settlers came and wondering why European settlers thought they could just take the land. This lead into the following lesson on Manifest Destiny.