Our staff readers have prepared this list of discussion questions for those reading Trail of Tears. Use these if you are starting your own book club, or just keep the questions in mind as you are reading the book. Next week, we will be introducing our staff readers. They will begin posting their own thoughts on these questions…and we hope you will join the conversation!
Discussion Questions for Trail of Tears
1. In Trail of Tears
, the Cherokee
Nation worked hard to assimilate into the European cultural norms of the new Americans. In present day America, many Indian Americans have chosen to assimilate into the modern cultural norms that have grown from the melting pot that is the United States. Many, however, choose to live on reservations, living life according to the values of their people and their history.
Are there indigenous groups or immigrant groups that have never fully assimilated into your culture? Is it necessary that they do?
2. In the Cherokee communities, marriages began and ended simply, a Cherokee woman had more rights and power than European women and marriages were allowed across racial barriers. Today these are becoming cultural norms around the world. Were the Cherokee ahead of their time or has our society today regressed?
3. In the book, the acquisition of land and territory is a central theme. The Moravians explained it best in the book when they said, “Land, the prime need of the white man. It always starts with land…” Why do you think land is the source of such great conflict and intense emotion?
4. “An initiation ceremony, welcoming Ridge to manhood, was held.” The Cherokee people had very specific steps that had to be taken in order to be considered a man. Does this initiation into manhood, or rite of passage, still happen today in your country?
5. On page 220, author John Ehle
quotes then U.S. President-Elect, Andrew Jackson, saying “Build a fire under them. When it gets hot enough, they’ll move.” What is your reaction to this quote and U.S. President Andrew Jackson’s involvement with the relocation of many American Indian tribes?
6. At one point in the book, Major Ridge has a moment of introspection, asking himself, “Have I come to this…from the place I began, from where my mother and father left me, from the going to water and the first stickball game, the hunts preceded by polite prayer, the killing of whites, the killing of Indians, even Cherokees, the thefts of slaves, the horse stealing? Have you, Major Ridge, grown into this different person, and are you growing, changing still? I scarcely know you.” Do you think the sacrifices and struggles that Ridge and the Cherokees endured were worth the “progress” made to advance the Cherokee society?
7. With little time for the Cherokee to plan and prepare, they were removed from their homelands to Oklahoma. It is estimated that approximately 17,000 Cherokee were forced to make this mass migration. Did the government take into account all of the arrangements that would need to be made to move this many people safely and smoothly? If you were given a short amount of time to leave your home and move to an unknown place, how would you feel? What would you take with you?
8. What other marches/relocations come to mind in history? Why have we not learned from our past?