Cherokee Head of State Returns to the Beginning of the Trail of Tears

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn., May 9 /PRNewswire/ — On May 13, Cherokee Nation Chief Chad Smith will return to the origin of the Trail of Tears, but on that day, the scene of his people’s greatest tragedy will become a place of triumph. Smith will join other Cherokee leaders in Chattanooga, Tennessee to dedicate The Passage, the nation’s largest public art project celebrating Cherokee history and culture. All events will occur at historic Ross’s Landing and are free and open to the public.

The Passage, a new pedestrian link between downtown Chattanooga and the Tennessee River, is located on the Trail of Tears at Ross’s Landing, the city’s original settlement, named for the great Cherokee Chief John Ross.

“My hope is that what Chattanooga is doing is not an anomaly, but the beginning of future positive relations with the US,” Chief Smith said. “Over the next 20 to 100 years, we hope to see relationships between the Cherokee Nation and the US begin to grow, both personally and economically … Our homeland is still a spiritual and important place for us.

“The Trail of Tears is the most tragic event the Cherokee Nation has ever experienced but with the creation of The Passage, Chattanooga is sending to the Cherokee people a message of hope. I hope The Passage is the first step towards a new relationship between Native Americans and the US government.”

Chief Smith will be joined by, Eastern Band Chief Mitchell Hicks, Mayor Ron Littlefield and former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker for the ceremonies.

“The Passage is not a token nod to the past,” said Mayor Littlefield. “It is a massive tribute – in the very cradle of our city – to the culture, the art and the accomplishments of the original citizens of Chattanooga. The Passage represents our passage into a new era and underscores the premise that a community can begin to atone for and reclaim the past by embracing it.”

“The Passage is a centerpiece of our city’s connection to the Tennessee River,” said Corker, who spearheaded a $120 million redevelopment of the Chattanooga waterfront. “The Passage is more than artwork, it is a fitting tribute celebrating the tremendous influence and contribution the Cherokee people have had in shaping Chattanooga’s heritage and culture.”

Chief John Ross valiantly resisted the forced removal of Cherokees to Oklahoma but once he realized resistance was futile, he provided leadership during the brutal migration that is credited with saving many Cherokee lives. Some 16,000 Cherokees were living in the East in 1830. Once the forced evacuation was launched in 1838, some 4,000 Cherokees died in stockades or on the trail. Among the casualties was Ross’s wife.

The Passage was created by Team Gadugi, a group of five Cherokee artists from Oklahoma. “Nowhere else in the world will people be able to experience anything like The Passage,” Gadugi says. “This is so much more than a memorial. It is a physical celebration of our Cherokee culture. It is important to us to reconnect with this community and come full circle in this journey.”

Photo Opportunities will include Chief Smith leading a torch lit procession that will re-trace a portion of the Trail of Tears journey but in reverse before dedicating The Passage. Narrators for the evening will be renowned actor Wes Studi who had starring roles in Geronimo, Dances with Wolves, and Last of the Mohicans and Gayle Ross the great, great, great granddaughter of Chief John Ross.

Visualizing The Passage …

As visitors enter this permanent outdoor exhibit, seven doors imbedded in the west wall symbolize the seven clans of the Cherokee Nation. A “weeping wall” pours over the doors representing the tears shed as the Cherokee were driven from their homes and removed on the Trail of Tears. Seven, six-foot ceramic disks tell the story of the Cherokee Nation from hundreds of years of Native American habitation in the southeast. Water runs under the massive disks into a shallow pool under Riverfront Parkway, the ceiling of which is clad with stainless steel. Imbedded in the pool is a giant stainless steel sculpture of the Little Water Spider, who the Cherokee believe first brought man fire, which will sparkle in the pool where water will be drawn from the river and sprayed back in a water arc beside the Riverwalk. Seven, 14-foot tall stainless steel sculptures of stickball players will grace the wall facing the river, educating visitors about the game and its importance to Cherokee culture.

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