"We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us, or spare us."
– Marcel Proust
Day 54 - Tuesday, August 15, 1995 - Tom Dostou journeyed solo on a night walk. He hiked silently, praying, through the whole of the dark, over Grandmother Mountain and also Grandfather Mountain. He walked under the faint light of the stars and a waning Moon.
Taking a respite after sunrise, Tom called me to talk about the experience. "It was beautiful,” he said, “but hard in some ways. I am psychologically tired from the months of preparation and the ongoing stresses of walking and making arrangements. That has taken a lot out of me.
"Something like a night walk really calls on you to reach deep. Last night as I walked and contemplated I saw again how important the Sunbow 5 walk is, and how committed we have to be. It's going to take everything. I have to be prepared to make the ultimate commitment to complete it, even be prepared to die. That's some of what I understood as I walked through the darkness.
"At one point late in the night I felt called to a particular rock, and I laid down on top of it. At that time I was given a vision of these mountains, of this whole Appalachian chain.
"I saw and felt myself in relationship with the most sacred of the mountains that are part of the chain: Mount Khatadin in Maine, Mount Washington and Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, Wachusett in Massachusetts, Ragtop, Grandmother Mountain, and Grandfather Mountain, and others. It was a very powerful vision, and it showed a lot.
"These mountains are not respected anymore. In times past they were used for vision, and people would come to them to fast and pray, and open to the Mystery. Now they are hardly ever used that way.
"In my vision I could see that this is something that is missed by the spirit of the mountains," Tom said, "as if the mountains were lonely for that kind of human striving. It would be good if it would happen more now. That would help with the deep healing that the people of this planet need to do."
During the day the main group of walkers moved on through the heat, down the Blue Ridge Parkway as far as Crabtree Meadows State Park, North Carolina.
Several of the walkers commented on how, when they walk through some of the tunnels that have been blasted out through the Appalacians, they feel as if they are in the belly of the mountain -- and that the bellies are aching with pain. They said they could feel what has happened to the Earth.
The walkers found the Crabtree Meadows campground to be comfortable and hospitable. They wolfed down a massive spaghetti dinner while making plans to move on at daybreak.
James Duncan called me from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to say that he and his family will join our walk on Wednesday. James, or Jim, is 48 years old, an enrolled Cherokee (Bird Clan). He and his family have just completed a long walk that they called "The Trail of Joy."
Jim, his wife Norma, and their five daughters all walked from Talequah, Oklahoma to New Echota, Georgia. Their walk reversed the pathway native peoples were forced to travel in 1838 in what is often called the removal, or "drive away," or "The Trail of Tears. In the Cherokee language, it is remembered as Getsikahvda Anegvi (trail on which they cried).
The Trail of Tears came about when pressure from settlers seeking to take over Cherokee lands reached a crescendo in 1828-39. At that time Georgia passed laws extinguishing the traditional government of the Cherokee. They "outlawed" the ancestral Cherokee capitol at New Echota, and distributed the land of Cherokee families to European settlers.
Thes Georgia laws were in direct violation of several legally binding, and explicitly clear treaties between the tribe and the US government. They also violated an explicit ruling of the United States Supreme Court.
However, Andrew Jackson was President of the US at that time. In the face of Georgia's grab for Cherokee land, Jackson refused to honor the legally binding treaties. Instead, knowing his government posessed the military might to make it happen, he advocated a harsh Indian Removal Act.
Thus, the United States broke more of the vows it had made to native people, and set the stage for the brutal, forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of Native peoples so that settlers could have their places. The Native were driven off to an unknown, dry land far west of the Mississippi.
The Removal Act of 1830, signed by Jackson, argued essentially that no state could achieve "proper" civilization or progress, as long as Indians remained within its boundaries.
Jackson ordered that the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws and Seminoles, must move from their ancestral homeland in the southern states to Indian Territory, a place now now incorporated as Oklahoma.
Government officials then solemnly vowed, once again, that this would be a permanent treaty, and that the place of removal, Oklahoma, would serve as the Indian's Promised Land "for as long as grass grows and the water flows."
The government term "removal" was really just a polite-sounding euphemism for thousands of brutal evictions of human beings, and the consequent deaths and sorrows.
Legend holds it that the Liberty Bell cracked On July 6, 1835 while tolling the death of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. Marshall had been the last man standing in the way of Jackson "removing" the Cherokee and turning them out on the Trail of Tears. He resisted valiantly, but in the end Marshall had been unable to staunch the tide of avarice and the political powers that brought it on.
|Getsikahvda Anegvi - This image of the Trail of Tears was painted by Robert Lindneux in 1942. If any depictions were created at the time of the forced march, they are unknown.
Relentlessly driven west along the Trail of Tears, poorly fed and equipped, the Cherokee, Choctaw and other native peoples died by the thousands, especially children and elders. About one-third of the disposessed people succumbed to sickness, exposure, malnutrition, and mistreatment.
Eventually the Cherokee were forced to settle in Talequah, eastern Oklahoma, which at the time was known as Indian Territory.
Talequah is where James Duncan was born. He is a direct descendant of some of the human beings who walked that sorrow-filled trail to the west.
As James explains it, what he and his family strove to do with their just completed Trail of Joy prayer walk, was to bring the journey home: to reverse the pathway and bring the spirit back toward the East with a walk of prayer and understanding.
"We wanted to try and heal some of the pain and sorrow and bitterness," he explained. "And so that is why we called our walk the Trail of Joy.
"We need to open our eyes to the fact that we are one people, one nation. If we are divided, it's because we let it happen. We are all brothers, this we know. We have to come into harmony with ourselves first, before we can come into harmony with others. That is why we walked. We walked to pray and to help with the healing."
"Prophecy has been given that there would come a time when we would be at a crossroads,” Jim explained. “The elders have said that we are now there and it is time for all of our people to come back to the spiritual oneness that bound us to our Mother Earth and with each other. The people who have held our traditional values are, at this time, to open their hearts and minds, to embrace their brothers and sisters who have wandered away."
Jim will be sharing the story of the "Trail of Joy" with the Sunbow 5 Walkers over the next few days. He will also tell people about the "DeSoto Walk" that he is planning for the spring of 1996.
With his family and all who are interested, he intends to make a prayer walk from the Mississippi River—where the conquistador died in 1542—back to Tampa, Florida, the starting point of the march of death and destruction.
About this upcoming walk, Jim would say only, "It is time for healing."
Copyright 2006 by Steven McFadden
Read Day 55 -- Odyssey of the 8th Fire