Mass Deportation and the Road to Indian Country
W. W. Norton & Co.
If Americans know anything about the deportation of native people in the 1830s, it is usually the story of the Cherokee Trail of Tears, often recounted in maudlin prose in a narrative that is heartbreaking but ultimately of little broader import. The poetic phrase “Trail of Tears” is so familiar that many people conflate Cherokee forced emigration with deportation more generally, even though Cherokees represented a fraction — about 15,000 — of the 80,000 thousand children, women, and men who were shipped west by the Federal government.
In Aboriginia: Mass Deportation and the Road to Indian Country, award-winning historian Claudio Saunt calls our attention to this mass deportation event, one whose significance is largely unacknowledged. While at the time it was enormously controversial, we have never reckoned with its meaning. And in a time when deporting immigrants is imaginable enough to be debated during a presidential election season, this reckoning is long overdue.
Aboriginia – the name being just one of the ways that the act of deporting native people was glossed over – broadens the story of “Indian removal” well beyond the Trail of Tears. The book compels us to learn from what happened two hundred years ago, when US citizens supported a vicious policy that killed thousands of native people and carved out a segregated territory for the survivors.
The consequences of the triumph of racism and opportunism in the 1830s are still with us. By acknowledging the centrality of mass deportation to our history, we can begin to take steps to avoid traveling that road again.