The Cherokee/Seminole Removal Role Play

Teaching Activity. By Bill Bigelow. 10 pages.
Role play on the Cherokee-Seminole removal or Trail of Tears.

  • Time Periods: Early 19th Century: 1800 - 1849, 19th Century | Themes: Democracy & Citizenship, Native American, Racism & Racial Identity | Reading Levels: High School | Resource Types: Teaching Activities (Free)

The Cherokee/Seminole Removal Role Play (Free Teaching Activity) | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's History

The events leading up to the infamous Trail of Tears, when U.S. soldiers marched Cherokee Indians at bayonet-point almost a thousand miles from Georgia to Oklahoma, offer a window into the nature of U.S. expansion—in the early 19th century, but also throughout this country’s history.

The Cherokees were not the only indigenous people affected by the Indian Removal law and the decade of dispossession that followed. The Seminoles, living in Florida, were another group targeted for resettlement. For years, they had lived side by side with people of African ancestry, most of whom were escaped slaves or descendants of escaped slaves. Indeed, the Seminoles and Africans living with each other were not two distinct peoples. Their inclusion in this role play allows students to explore further causes for Indian removal, to see ways in which slavery was an important consideration motivating the U.S. government’s hoped-for final solution to the supposed Indian problem. The role play encourages students to explore these dynamics from the inside. As they portray individuals in some of the groups that shaped these historical episodes, the aim is for them to see not only what happened, but why it happened—and perhaps to wonder whether there were alternatives.

The Trail of Tears, painted by Robert Lindneux in 1942. From the Woolaroc Museum.

Beyond Heroes and Holidays (Teaching Guide) | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's HistoryPublished by Teaching for Change in Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practical Guide to K-12 Multicultural, Anti-Racist Education and Staff Development. Beyond Heroes and Holidays offers essays, articles, analysis, interviews, primary documents and interdisciplinary lessons. Edited by Enid Lee, Deborah Menkart, and Margo Okazawa-Rey.



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There are 8 comments by other visitors:

  • I’d love any additional resources people have found regarding primary sources and the 5 roles used in this simulation. I’d like to give students the option of additional sources to use and have found some good sources (text on treaties, some speeches by Congressmen both for/against, etc). I’m really needing some additional sources for Black Seminoles, Missionaries, and Southern Planters. If anyone has any sources (particularly online!) I’d be very grateful! Kate Harrigan (8th Grade teacher)

    Response shared by Kate Harrigan — January 12, 2010 @ 3:24 pm

  • I modified the trial into a larger unit of historical thinking. Students were given the role of investigative journalists or detectives building a case for/against Andrew Jackson or the United States in general (this wasn’t only Jackson that railed against Indians).

    We used primary sources including:
    1. Elias Boudinot’s letter to Cherokee in 1837 (Stanford’s Reading Like a Historian lesson on Indian Removal)
    2. Jackson’s speeches in 1830 (January & December) to congress.
    3. Worcester vs Georgia Supreme Court case
    4. Supporting and Opposing viewpoints from congressmen of the time (Lewis Cass, Sec of War for Jackson, Theodore Frelinghuysen,
    5. Propaganda – Andrew Jackson as “The Great Father” painting, “Hunting Indians in Florida with Bloodhounds”
    6. Past/Future president’s remarks about Native American removal – Washington, Jefferson, Monroe, Jackson, Van Buren, Taylor, etc

    Then congress had their hearings (instead of the trial) in 1840 so the different interest groups could have hindsight to all the events as they presented their case for/against removal. Congress also had to look up actual congressmen from the 26th congress (1840) and take on that role during the hearings.

    Response shared by Eric Kipling — March 31, 2016 @ 9:55 am

  • I have used this lesson for two years now and it has really made the event come to life and has students wanting to learn more. Many of my students begin to ask if we can do more “things like this” after this lesson. The lesson engages students in real life events that can be tied to the present which is difficult but important as a U.S. history teacher. The discourse after the simulation also provides students with a better understanding of other topics in history such as the civil rights movement and civil war. After teaching this lesson I implemented more Zinn Education Project activities which has really helped my students understand complex ideas and has engaged them more in the study of American history.” —Pate Thomas, high school social studies teacher, Las Vegas, NV

    Response shared by Pate Thomas — May 23, 2016 @ 1:37 pm

  • Students dove into the work with a fervency, really taking the issues to heart. —Douglas Tyson, middle school social studies teacher, Ridley Park, PA

    Response shared by Douglas Tyson — May 23, 2016 @ 1:37 pm

  • With the Indian Removal Act I guided the students through understanding their role, read primary sources, then students created questions, using evidence from the role cards and primary sources, in order to ask the other groups. We then held a mock congressional hearing in which Jackson and his administration were able to ask and answer questions in regards to the Indian Removal Act. All students got into character really well, gave their reasoning on why Natives should be moved or why they should stay. This lesson really allowed students to see the different perspectives concerning this event. They were also able to justify their decisions with evidence. —Venessa Urioste, high school social studies teacher, Albuquerque, NM

    Response shared by Venessa Urioste — May 23, 2016 @ 1:38 pm

  • I have used the Role play of the Indian Removal Act…it is so powerful! 100 times better than History Alive which barely addresses the affects on Native Americans. Students went deep into comparing our watered down textbooks to the dynamic social justice perspective of the Zinn curriculum. They are very critical thinkers – they wondered why our textbook doesn’t go in depth on the affects this had on Native Americans, or how the decisions of rich white men have affected the development of our country. —Cori Longstreet, interdisciplinary (social studies, language arts, science) middle school teacher, Portland, OR

    Response shared by Cori Longstreet — May 23, 2016 @ 1:38 pm

  • This lesson enabled my students to put themselves in the shoes of the oppressed (Cherokees and Seminoles) and to demonstrate and defend their position of maintaining their homeland despite broken government treaties. It pitted minority groups against government bigwigs in a courtroom setting. It tested a biased, “democratic” process we still face today. The results were awesome! Never, and I mean NEVER before have I witnessed such engagement in students during my 18 years in the classroom. The visiting principal and our own principal each spoke to the class. They were in awe! They invited us to their school to demonstrate the ability of complete student interaction. It was a very proud day for all. —Charles Duthu, middle school social studies teacher, Long Island City, NY

    Response shared by Charles Duthu — May 23, 2016 @ 1:39 pm

  • How about something on the Nez Perce Trail ‘of tears’? It’s also known as the Nez Perce War. You all know about Chief Joseph and his famous speech, “I will fight no more forever.” Well that’s where it comes from.

    Response shared by danielp — June 18, 2016 @ 8:00 pm

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