May 11, 2011

RSU Public TV to Present Film Chronicling Trail of Tears

"Trail of Tears Cherokee Legacy," a film that explores President Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation to Indian Territory in 1838, will be presented at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 19, on RSU Public Television.

Rich-Heape Films, Inc., a Dallas-based Native American-owned corporation, produced the two-hour, high-definition feature documentary.

Wes Studi, a well-known Cherokee actor, presents the film, speaking on camera in his native Cherokee language (with subtitles). Noted actor James Earl Jones, who is of blended African and Cherokee heritage, provides narration for the film. They are supported by the celebrity voices of actor James Garner, singer Crystal Gayle, actor John Buttram and former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder, reading diary excerpts, and a host of historical experts from major universities.

"Uniquely, a Cherokee is recounting this shameful chapter in American history," said Steven R. Heape, executive producer and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. "This is no ‘Hollywood-ization' of an American holocaust. The Trail of Tears actually drove the Five Civilized Tribes – Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, Chickasaw and Muscogee Creek – from their native lands."

Heape and his partner, Chip Richie, who co-produced and directed the film, spent seven years researching and developing the story. It took another three years to raise funds to produce the visual chronicle of an event often referred to as "America's darkest hour."

"The Jacksonian policy led to a brutal, cross country trek in which nearly a quarter of the tribal citizens, died from hunger, exposure, disease and sheer exhaustion," Richie noted. "And these were primarily peaceful farming families who lived in houses, owned businesses, had their own newspapers and abided by their own constitution."

Scenes and segments were filmed in and around Andersonville, Lumpkin and Westville, Ga.; Hopkinsville, Ky.; Littleton, Me.; Cherokee, N.C.; Bismarck, N.D.; Tahlequah, Okla., and in Nashville, Tenn.

Commenting in the film are authors and historians Robert J. Conley; Dr. Brett Riggs and Dr. Theda Purdue, both of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Dr. Daniel Littlefield, University of Arkansas; John B. Finger, head of Native American Studies at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville; Dr. Duane King, and Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation.

"My reason for wanting to accurately tell this story goes back to the day in 1985 when I received my tribal citizenship. My Uncle Gene Heape of Dallas sat me down and told me the story of the Trail of Tears. In proper Cherokee culture, this was his responsibility and is ‘the way' in which younger Cherokees learn the true story of our people," said Heape.

Studi, best remembered for his role in the movie "Last of the Mohicans," is a "compelling and knowledgeable native actor," emphasized Heape, himself a descendant of Nancy Ward, the Cherokee Beloved Woman who survived the Bell's Route journey.

"Another eloquent personality in the film is Gayle Ross, great-great-great granddaughter of John Ross, the principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation at the time of the forced march," he said.

Special acknowledgement should go to Principal Chiefs Chad Smith of the Cherokee Nation and Michelle Hicks of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for their vision and dedication to educating on tribal history, said the producers.

"And our appreciation is manifold for hundreds of Indians, actors, military re-enactors, volunteers, film crew members and the civil servants and citizens of dozens of towns that contributed to this movie," said Heape. "They, too, deserve recognition for their patience and passion for this historic project."

James Neel of James Neel Music House in Dallas composed the original score with music contribution by the musical group "Walela" (Hummingbird in Cherokee) -- Rita and Priscilla Coolidge and Laura Satterfield.

RSU Public Television is licensed to Rogers State University and is the only public TV station operated by a university in Oklahoma. The station, based on the RSU campus in Claremore, reaches more than one million people within a 75-mile radius of the campus. RSU Public TV broadcasts on digital channel 35.1 and 35.2, Tulsa and Claremore cable channel 19, Cable Channel 4 in Bartlesville and satellite channel 35 across northeastern Oklahoma.

For more information about RSU Public Television visit