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A proud group of people forced to move out of their home land and forced into a new life style. Changes that shift everything about who they are and the life style they once held so dear to them. The group at mention is the Chickasaw tribe of North America. This group of Native Americans inhabited the southeast regions of Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama. During the 1830’s this tribe along with many other Indian tribes were relocated forcefully to new locations because of new world expansion.
These tribes were forced to move, and this research paper will look at what may have changed in their culture because of this forceful relocation. This paper will look at how the Chickasaw tribe was before, during, and after their relocation comparing the cultural changes and differences along the way and looking at what they may have gained or lost during this process.
Culture is what you call a specific groups way of life.
This may include what they do, how they talk, rituals they may have, social behaviors, and languages, and these are just a few examples. Culture is very deeply rooted in people more than they may know, just like culture for the Chickasaws. Looking at how their culture was changed by the new United States will help educate us to prevent history from repeating itself while also giving us an inside look at their way of life and how it changed during the time of westward expansion.
Although much of the Chickasaw tribe’s history is unknown due to lack of written documents what is known of them are stories passed down through their generations.
The knowledge we have of them today starts when the first settlers arrived in the new world. One of the first known encounters with the tribe was made by Hernando de Sore who invaded their country in the month of November 1540 (History of the Chickasaw, Cushman, H.B., Debo, Angie). De Sore made demands that the Chickasaw people did not agree with and because of this they fought and killed many of his men and horses, causing chaos throughout most of his army, although the Chickasaws were eventually bested by De Sores superior technology they still did enough to cause problems for him. Even from when they were first discovered they had conflict with new settlers, but it is not because they wanted to but because they felt they were in the wrong and needed to defend what was theirs. This is just an example to show that it seems like this was the first of a lot of differences between the Chickasaw nation and explorers.
The Chickasaw nation is a proud group of people who at time could seem harsh, but always took care of their own and had a very rich culture. They are believed to have moved around the Mississippi river in prehistoric times and stayed there until their relocation in the 1830’s. Surely through this forceful movement some of the Chickasaws long history of cultural beliefs must have changed. For example, Native American religions are not like the normal religions that we may think of, they are based off of sacredness. In the book American Indians of the Northeast and Southeast, by Kathleen Kuiper, she talks about the belief system of these native tribes. She states, “…indigenous religions tend to concern themselves more with degrees of sacredness. Everyone and everything are spirit- filled though not equally” (Kathleen Kuiper, American Indians of the Northeast and Southeast). This is not an uncommon belief among many Native American tribes, especially for the tribes that lived in the same general area. Although many tribes may have had the same belief system they still had many other cultural differences, this is one reason why these tribes didn’t combine into bigger ones. One of the major effects that the settlers of the new world had on the Chickasaw culture and on many other native tribes was that they tried to convert them to Christianity and other religions. Many of the settlers believed that Christianity was the superior religion and needed to be shared with the native people. Many missionaries worked to change the belief system of these tribes, but at this point the settlers still had little influence on the Native Americans and didn’t have much luck. The Chickasaw tribe, along with others were here long before any settlers came into the new world but when the new settlers came it became too much for these tribes, especially when they began forming states and cities. These new settlers brought stuff to the new world that these natives had never seen and because of this the new settlers could manipulate and take what they wanted from the native people.
Before we get too in-depth about Chickasaw culture let’s look at what western expansion is. Westward expansion could be perceived as everything explored west of Europe during the time of exploration, and while that is westward expansion, this paper will magnify the westward expansion of the United States. Magnify in this sense means to look at the westward expansion of the United States and hope for more land. The United States declared independence from England in 1776 and became their own country. Anita Yasuda states, “Up to the early 1800s, most people in the United States lived along the Atlantic Coast. With the Louisiana Purchase, more and more settlers began moving westward” (Westward Expansion of the United States, Anita Yasuda). The Louisiana Purchase was a land purchase by the United States from France and it was land west of the Mississippi river. Today is known as the mid-west and includes Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas. Because of this new land the United States believed it was their God given right to explore and take over this land and this was known as Manifest Destiny. This led to a lot of people moving out west to start a new life for themselves, this is where the United states ran into land territory problems with Native American tribes. Many treaties were made during this time between the Native tribes and the United States over land territories. Although some treaties may have lasted a short while, most of the treaties were broken because of the United States greed for more land control and power. These broken promises led to a lot of conflict between the two and many battles happened over land because of it. Many tribes joined the British during the war of 1812 in hopes of reclaiming some of the land taken. At this time the Native American tribes were beginning to realize how important land was and what having land meant.
Native American tribes were mainly put into two groups. There were those who settled down and worked the land and hunted and gathered from the one spot they lived, known as sedentary farmers. These groups had more permanent living conditions like villages and none movable structures. There were also those groups who traveled and moved with the food they were hunting, this type of group lived mainly in tents and movable structures. These groups were known as nomads. The nomadic tribes’ lives weren’t as affected as much as the sedentary tribes in the beginning of the relocation, but it would affect where they could move later on. The two groups had two completely different types cultures, one believed it was necessary for the tribe to move to survive, while the other believed life is stable in a set place. The Chickasaw tribe was a semi nomadic tribe, which means they moved some but not a lot compared to a full nomadic tribe. The Chickasaw tribe along with many others were not as advanced as the new settlers, and in some cases, it was hard for them to keep up with the new way of life that the settlers were pushing on them.
As stated before, westward expansion was settlers in the United States who wanted to travel west for land and to start new lives. One of the major issues they ran into was land disputes with native American tribes. To solve this the president at the time, Andrew Jackson, proposed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The Indian Removal Act is described as, “an act to provide for an exchange of lands with the Indians residing in any of the states of territories, and for their removal west of the Mississippi” (Indian Removal Act of 1830). Although the bill passed it was not a popular one and many believed that it was wrong to do this to the Indians. While others thought it was necessary for westward expansion. This not only effected the Chickasaw tribe but every native tribe east of the Mississippi. The United States kept expanding and pushing west and as they did they kept moving and relocating the Native tribes. Some of the tribes tried to fight back but because of their lack in technology compared to the U.S. they didn’t have much luck. Although the Chickasaw tribe were known for their fighting skills it wouldn’t have done much good fighting against the U.S. military.
This relocating and moving of the Native American tribes was given a name, and it was called the trail of tears. Many people were moved on the trail of tears not just the Chickasaw, “over 40 groups and tribes” (James W. Parins, Marion Blackburn, Full Scope of the Trail of Tears). Thousands of people were forced off of their home land and moved to wherever the United States decided to put them. The reason it was given the name trail of tears is because many people of the tribe lost their life and even for those who survived it was a very difficult journey. For the Chickasaw this new land they were moved to is now known as southeast Oklahoma. This was relatively close for the Chickasaw Indians, but other tribes weren’t as lucky. Some tribes had to travel across the whole country to their new home. This removal act not only cost the country thousands of dollars, but it also cost many Native American lives. Some were unfit for the journey to begin with while other could handle some of the changing climates, because of this some groups could hardly start a new life. Many smaller tribes did not last long after relocation and some tribes got wiped out trying to stay and fight for their land. Even groups who made it to their new land had a hard time because of the new environment and climate they were put in. Naturally the elderly usually didn’t survive these trips and at this time there wasn’t much of written history of these tribes because everything about them was passed down through stories. The elderly were the ones who did most of the story telling and when the Chickasaw tribe and many other tribes lost them, they lost part of their history along with part of their culture.
Once the Chickasaw tribe was moved the United States government thought it was necessary to educate this tribe along with many others in the way that people of the U.S. learned. With this idea came the idea of boarding schools, schools that would teach these young Native American generations the way of the U.S. These schools were not on the reservations, and in some cases the U.S. government would use force to get these kids to go and would force parents to give up their children. They hoped to get the kids as young as they could because if they were young they weren’t speaking the language of their people yet, so the boarding schools would teach them English. This may not seem bad at first but once these kids grew up and left boarding school and went back to their tribes they couldn’t speak the language, so it was hard for them to stay. Historian Joseph Watras says these schools were not to teach the kids, “Instead reforms reinforced the modernistic notions found in the mainstream society” (Joseph Watras, Progressive Education and Native American Schools, 1929-1950). These types of schools were the United States way of trying to change a whole group of people in a way that seemed nice. These schools taught the kids the culture of most Americans in hopes they would forget their own culture.
Through this paper we have seen how the Chickasaw Tribe along with many others were very proud people who lived peacefully in land they thought would be theirs forever. During this time land was power and some people would do whatever it takes to get that power. In this case it was the removal of the Chickasaw tribe from their home land. To the United States the west was the great unknown and they needed to get it, the only thing standing in their way were the Native American tribes, but that wasn’t going to stop them. Once the Indian Removal Act of 1830 passed it was open for the U.S. to do whatever they needed to do to the Indians to get this land. The U.S. relocated the Chickasaw tribe to a new location, the paths and ways to get to these new lands for these tribes became known as the trail of tears. Even when the Chickasaw tribe reached the new land set for them the U.S. was not done with them yet, they continued to try and change these people by taking them away from their tribe and trying to change their way of life and culture.
Culture is a very important part of a group of people’s ways of life, it tells so much about a group and the people in it and in this case, it was the Native American tribe the Chickasaws. The lives of these people were reshaped and, in some cases, partially destroyed because of the lack of care that United States had for them. The changes this tribe went through is unbelievable and unforgettable. These people will never know what their lives would be like if they had never been moved, but we can hope to learn from this to prevent more cultures from being ripped apart and destroyed in the future.
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