Where I’m From: Personal and Cherokee Voices

Leslie Walker


The guiding principle for this activity was for students to make a connection between the place where they live and the people who occupied the same place before them, the Cherokee in northwest Georgia.  I wanted them to recognize the fact that someone actually lived in the same space we do today, literally.  To make this connection, I wanted the students to consider where they (students) are from and how that makes them what they are today.  Then I wanted them to look at the Cherokee from that same perspective.  This assignment works to connect the personal and present voice to a public and past voice. 


Students will be able to write two poems: a “Where I’m From” poem from their personal point of view and one from the point of view of a Cherokee Indian. 

In addition to KCAC objectives, this strategy meets the content area objectives for our school system: 

Instructional sequence

1.  Have students read George Ella Lyon’s poem “Where I’m From” and write a poem about themselves, emulating the same style.

2.  Have students share poems with the class.

3.  Begin class discussion by asking students if they know who was here before they were.  Have them write a list of everything they know about the Cherokee Indians.

4.  In computer lab, have students access

http://www.ngeorgia.com/history/nghisttt.html and answer specific reading guide questions provided (see below).

5.  Have students write a “Where I’m From” poem from the Cherokee Indian’s point of view.

6.  Assessment:  Student work is scored on the following criteria: student correctly answers reading-guide questions; poems demonstrate specific images, objects, names, and events that define personal and Cherokee origin.

Student artifact

“Native Land”
I’ve been born from the tear-stained dirt
Caked with mud
This burnt earth
All the tyranny
All the sorrow
That was my home
That was my life
My home was with child
With love
With brothers and sisters
Happiness was buffalo
Corn, berries, rabbit
The dogs that we fed and ever after stayed
This was our home
This was our life
This was our happiness
Driven away from this was us
Driven by the White men on their trail
Cold and harsh
There goes my child
There goes my love
There goes my brothers and sisters
Never will I see my home again
Ay, Ay, Ay
My home
Ay, Ay, Ay,
My child, my love, my family
Oh, me
My life
That was where I was from
-- Bridgette Bullard
1. What was Georgia’s population in 1830?
2. Click on American Land.  What was the first piece of land controlled by the Cherokee?
3. Who led the Cherokee Nation in opposing removal?
4. Who led the smaller group supporting removal?
5. How much money was the Cherokee Nation to be paid in exchange for removal?
6. Was it ever paid?
7. Who controlled most of the land in the gold region?
8. What does Auraria mean?
9. Click on Cherokee.  Write five facts from link.
10. Click on New Echota ­ read.
11. Click on Cherokee Phoenix ­ read.
12. What does the name “Talking Leaves” mean?

Teacher reflection

Before this lesson, the students had watched a 15-minute video on the history of the Southeastern Indians from their time before the Europeans arrived until the time of the Trail of Tears.  They had also read four Cherokee myths and had written myths of their own, explaining an aspect of nature.  I think the above poem is pretty sophisticated, considering the small amount of pre-reading we had done.  It achieves the personal connection I wanted them to make, as mentioned in my overview.  But some of the other poems don’t make that connection.  In the future, I will make this assignment after we have read Pushing the Bear, not before.  Then I think the students will have more of an empathetic response to the Cherokee in their writing.

Curricular Crossings:

Suggestions on how you might adapt this lesson for a different classroom setting

► The “Where I’m From” poem is such a teachable text that its possible classroom adaptations are virtually endless as the frequency of the text within this volume suggests.  The use of personal narrative as a window to greater student appreciation of the Trail of Tears, however, is particularly inviting to U.S. history teachers. 

► To a teacher frustrated by the numbing statistics of the U.S. history survey textbook, this approach offers many opportunities to make history real by transporting students into the perspective of an individual person confronting a precise historical moment.  Encouraging students to write from these historical perspectives encourages creativity, but it also can bring history to life in ways that enable a deeper appreciation and emotional commitment to the past. 

► I can imagine many such historical moments that could be brought to life by writing poetry or historical fiction: the flight to freedom of fugitive slaves, the dilemma of an immigrant discovering the difference between his imagined America and the one he discovers upon arriving, the hopelessness of a textile worker on the eve of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York at the turn of the century, or the anguish of an interned and patriotic Japanese-American citizen during World War II.

► Teachers interested in encouraging students to write fictional narrative about the Trail of Tears should consult Mimi Dyer’s unit, “Voices of the Trial,” centered on Diane Glancy’s wonderful novel Pushing the Bear.  This unit is featured on the web site that serves as the Internet companion to this volume. You can access it at the Community Projects sections of the website.

-- Dave Winter



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