"Can There Ever Really Be Justice on Stolen Land?"—Timelining to Understand

“Can There Ever Really be Justice on Stolen Land?” Timelining to Understand

25-60 Minutes

“Timelining to Understand” activities allow students to place the events discussed in the Basic Plan in a larger historical context.


  • Analyze connections among events and developments in a broader historical context.
  • Evaluate the relative significance of events contributing to the displacement of Indigenous people in the South.

Six Degrees of Separation Directions:

1. Before the lesson:

  • Examine the Student Timeline and modify it as needed to fit your curriculum and students.
    • Younger students may need fewer options to choose from.
    • You can choose to have your students focus on making just one of the timelines.
    • Print physical or send virtual copies of the “Student Timeline” to students.

2. Complete the Basic Plan.

3. Introduce the activity:

The story of the displacement of Native Americans began well before the Indian Removal Act. No one historical event happens by itself. You are going to receive a timeline of historical events that help to contextualize how an event as sorrowful as the Trail of Tears took place. Your task will be to select 7 key events that led to the removal of Native people. Your timeline must include the Indian Removal Act.

4. Create Timelines

Have students work alone, in pairs, or in small groups to create their individual timelines using the Student Timeline below. Consider having students create a large chart-paper version of their timelines. Alternatively, have the students complete a Google Form marking their selections so that the students can easily see class trends (15-20 minutes).

  • Optional: Attempt to come up with a class consensus list by pairing individuals/pairs/groups and having them come to a consensus list, then pairing those groups with other groups and repeating the process until the whole class agrees on one final list (10-20 minutes).

5. Discuss timelines as a group.

Consider some of the following prompts (10-20 minutes):

  • Which events did almost everybody  include on their initial lists? Why?
  • Which events did nobody include? Why?
  • (If only one or two groups picked an event) You included this, but almost nobody else did. Why do you think it’s important?
  • Is there one “right” timeline? Why or why not?
  • Which traits make an event “significant?”
  • Are there pieces of background information that are important for people to understand that aren’t on this timeline? What are they? Why aren’t they on the timeline? (This question is designed to help students see that things like societal beliefs are a part of historical context, even if they can’t be tied to a particular event.)

Six Degrees Timeline: Indian Removal Act

Directions: The following timeline contains important events related to the forced removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands and homes. Your task is to select 7 key events that led to the removal of Native people. Your timeline must include the Indian Removal Act.

Late 1700s

U.S. officials urge the Cherokees to abandon their traditional ways of life and to instead learn how to live, worship, and farm like Christian Americans. Many Cherokees embrace this "civilization program."

April 24, 1802

The United States of America and the state of Georgia enter into an agreement called the Compact of 1802, in which the Federal government agrees to extinguish the Indian land title and remove the Cherokees from Georgia. In return, Georgia gives up claims on western lands.

March 27, 1814

Andrew Jackson commands U.S. military forces against the Creeks in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. In their defeat, 800 out of the 1,000 Creek soldiers were killed (Jackson’s army was more than twice the size and lost only 50 men). The Creeks were also forced to sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson, ceding 22 million acres of their land — about one-half of present-day Alabama and one-fifth of Georgia.


The First Seminole War takes place, spurred in part by the Seminole’s practice of welcoming escaped enslaved people. The presence of the escaped enslaved people enraged white planters and fueled their desire to defeat the Seminoles. This war eventually leads to Spain relinquishing the territory of Florida to the U.S.

March 3, 1819

Congress passes the Civilization Fund Act with an annual budget of $10,000. The money is used by the government and Christian missionaries to establish schools on Indian territory, where Native people are taught to replace their traditional practices with those of white settlers.

October 1820

The first removal treaty involving the Choctaws — the Treaty of Doak’s Stand — is signed. Jackson is said to have gained their signatures by “resort[ing] to threats and a temper tantrum.” A portion of the tribe is removed to southwest Arkansas Territory.


The Cherokees adopt a written constitution, modeled after America’s, as a strategy to maintain autonomy and resist removal.

May 28, 1830

Congress passes the Indian Removal Act, authorizing the federal government to negotiate treaties with eastern tribes exchanging their lands for land in the West.

September 1830

The first treaty after the creation of the Indian Removal Act — the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek — is signed by the Choctaws. The treaty was rejected twice by women of the Choctaw Nation who traditionally controlled access to and governance of lands. Angered by this, U.S. representatives instead met secretly only with male chiefs in order to create the treaty. This begins the process of Choctaw removal.

March 18, 1831

The Supreme Court hears the case of Cherokee Nation v. State of Georgia. Chief Justice John Marshall denies Indians the right to court protection.

March 3, 1832

In Worcester v. Georgia, the Supreme Court rules that the federal government, not the states, has jurisdiction over Indian territories. Chief Justice John Marshall rules that the Cherokee Nation is entitled to federal law protections over the state laws protections of Georgia. An outraged President Jackson refuses to enforce the ruling.

October 20, 1832

The Chickasaw sign the Treaty of Pontotoc Creek, which cedes their remaining lands east of the Mississippi, leading to their removal to Indian territory.

March 24, 1832

The Treaty of Cusseta is signed with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, ceding all Creek lands east of the Mississippi. Many Muscogee people attempted to take advantage of a provision in the treaty that allowed them to remain on small pieces of their land, but tensions arose between them and the white people that settled on their land. By 1835, the government ordered the removal of the Creeks because of the conflict.

March 28, 1832

Seminole Chiefs are tricked and forced into signing the Treaty of Payne’s Landing, which called for their removal. Most Seminoles refused to relocate, leading to the Second Seminole War, which lasted until 1842.


The Indian Intercourse Act is amended to define “Indian Country” as all parts of America west of Mississippi and not within the states of Missouri, Louisiana, or Arkansas Territory, or any other organized territory.

December 29, 1835

A small group of Cherokee people signed the Treaty of New Echota, agreeing to their forced removal and ceding all of their lands east of the Mississippi. The majority of Cherokees opposed this treaty, including Chief John Ross, who organized a petition against it. Still, the U.S. ratified the treaty in 1836.


By 1837, the Jackson administration had carried out the forced removal of more than 46,000 Indigenous people from their ancestral lands east of the Mississippi, and had secured treaties which led to the removal of additional people. Almost all of the people from the five southeastern Tribes have been removed, opening up their lands — 25 million acres of them — to white settlement and slavery.


Under the presidency of Martin Van Buren, the Cherokee people are forcibly removed from their homes, imprisoned in stockades, and forced to march over 1,000 miles in the Trail of Tears, directly translated as “The Trail Where They Cried” from the Cherokee language. More than 4,000 died on the Trail with many buried in unmarked graves.

Sources: National Museum of the American Indian (2) , National Humanities Center, PBS, Oklahoma Historical Society (2), Digital History, American Battlefield Trust, Encyclopædia Britannica, Equal Justice Initiative, Tennesse Virtual Archive, Encyclopedia of Alabama, Seminole Nation Museum, NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Wikipedia (2)