"Can There Ever Really Be Justice on Stolen Land?": Document Analysis

"Can There Ever Really Be Justice on Stolen Land?": Document Analysis

Timing: 45-75 minutes (less for older students or if you skip the debrief)

“Document Analysis” activities pose a question related to stories presented in the Basic Plan. They provide students with curated, sometimes modified documents with headnotes and guiding questions. Students then use evidence from all of the documents to reach a final conclusion.


  • Understand how Indigenous people were perceived and treated by American settlers.
  • Evaluate these perceptions/depictions for historical accuracy given what you’ve learned.


1. If necessary, equip students for the historical thinking skills of this lesson.

  • If sourcing is a new skill for students, ask:
    • Why would different people describe the same event in different ways?
      • They were affected differently by the event; some were perpetrators and some were victims.

2. If necessary, review the following content with students:

  • Winfield Scott (or Major General Scott) served as the U.S. Army General from 1814 to 1861. He participated in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and the Civil War. He took part in conflicts involving Native Americans, such as the Second Seminole War and the Creek War of1836. Winfield Scott presided over the removal of the Cherokee people from their ancestral homelands to Indian territory.

3. Frame the activity:

  • The cruelty and inequity of the Indian Removal Act are well-documented, but the military's role in enacting this law as well as the language and power that it used to do so is often glossed over. We're going to be historians and try to learn about the execution of the Indian Removal Act from someone who was in charge of helping enact it. As we do this, we'll need to think a lot about how persuasive language is connected to misuse of power and about how words and tone can express intent.
  • Our central question is: How does Winfield Scott’s Address to the Cherokee demonstrate American sentiments towards Indigenous people?

4. Distribute the document.

  • The document is formatted for online use; simply make a copy and distribute the new document to students digitally. If you are printing, you will need to create more space for students to write their responses.
  • If sourcing is a new skill for students, do the sourcing questions together.
  • Have the students read, annotate, and answer the questions individually, in pairs, small groups, or as a whole class, with you modeling a think-aloud of the source information.
  • Have students discuss the questions in small groups  and then write their responses.

5. Debrief as a class, using some or all of the questions below:

  • What are some of the specific sentences or phrases that Scott uses to try to convince the Cherokees to peacefully submit to the removal?
    • Students may say:  “ the emigration must be commenced in haste, but, I hope, without disorder.”; “Soldiers are as kind hearted as brave, and the desire of every one of us is to execute our painful duty in mercy.”; “Remember that, in pursuit, it may be impossible to avoid conflicts. The blood of the white man, or the blood of the red man may be spilt, and if spilt, however accidentally, it may be impossible for the discreet and humane among you, or among us to prevent a general war and carnage.”
  • What is the effect of constantly mixing references to the army with references to kindness and friendship?
    • Students may say: Acting as though the army are friends/kind to the Cherokee people tries to make it seem like Indian removal isn’t actually that bad, or that the Cherokee shouldn’t be upset about it.
  • In what light does Scott want the Cherokees and the American people to view the army?
    • Students may say: Scott wants people to view the army as friendly and benevolent people who don’t want to cause any harm and are just doing what is asked of them.
  • Do you think that the Cherokees would have described this removal in the same terms that Scott did?
    • Students may say: No. The Cherokee would not have described their removal as peaceful and necessary. They probably would not have seen the army as their friends.
  • Why can't we trust all of the language that Scott uses in this address?
    • Students may say: Scott uses language that makes the army’s actions seem good and morally sound; however, Indian removal was an extremely harsh, violent, painful, and unethical process. Additionally, Scott promises the Cherokees that there supplies like food and clothing will be provided for them when they arrive in Indian territory; however, many Indians did not receive such supplies.