The Return to Coldwater
By Mary Carton | Sep 27, 2016
On September 11, 2001, I was at work teaching a new RN orientation class. The education department supervisor came in and announced that something was happening in New York, and turned on the television. In disbelief, we watched the replay of a plane going into one of the twin towers.
Fifteen years later, I spent the weekend at Oka Kapasa — Return to Coldwater in Tuscumbia, Alabama, with descendants of those removed from the southeast during the Trail of Tears. They have a reason to protest, but what I saw was the education of local schools about the old ways of doing things to survive every day. I saw people honoring the USA and Alabama flags; I saw them honoring our Vets; I saw the honoring of the citizens of the area. Tuscumbia was the only city along the removal route whose citizens provided food, clothing, and medical care.
I saw USA flags at half-mast all over the Shoals.
Now, contrast this to what I saw on some of the football games during the “Star-Spangled Banner” by the players.
A little bit of history about our area during the War of 1812:
Native Americans from the north came down to an area in what is now Colbert Ferry on the Natchez Trace, along the Tennessee River, and met with local Native Americans. The North tried to talk the South into supporting the British. The southern Natives decided to side with the Americans. General Andrew Jackson promised that if they helped him in the Battle of New Orleans, they would not be removed. Blacks were promised freedom. Neither promise came to fulfillment. Over four thousand died on the way to Oklahoma.
A large number of Native Americans throughout the southeast were brought through Coldwater (Tuscumbia) and on to Tuscumbia Landing for transport down the Tennessee River. Tuscumbia is the only documented town along the route that provided clothing, blankets, food, and medical care. Chilly McIntosh was quoted in a local newspaper during that time as saying, “As long as our nation remains upon the earth, we will recollect Tuscumbia.”
For an account of the hardships suffered on the way, a friend found this story by one of the soldiers.
Each year, Native Americans return to Tuscumbia to commemorate the actions the people of the city took when the Native Americans were camped here during their removal. Part of the Oka Kapassa Festival is a reverse walk almost two miles long, taken from Tuscumbia Landing on the river back to the homeland in Tuscumbia.
One of my friends — whom I first met on the walk as a photographer a few years back — posted this comment on her Facebook page, and I share it with her permission:
“Just got home from Oka Kapassa Festival, and though I am glad to be home, every time I leave that place I leave a small piece of my heart there. Tuscumbia is magical as it’s a part of our homelands, but it’s made even more special by the people there. The festival committee are the most caring, loving people, who I am honored to call family. The school kids are always so respectful and kind. I have kids who first saw me perform in 2011 who search me out every year, as well as adults who search me out to hug me and thank me for coming. One woman ambled across the grounds to hug me, telling me that she has come to see me for the past three years, that she’d had surgery two days ago, and that I was the reason she got out of the hospital. I was so honored. I was so pleased to be asked to showcase in Florence at a library. The next day back at festival, 10 or more people came up, telling me after seeing me at the library they had to come to the festival to hear more. I was so touched by these people. The festival is a place I can reconnect every year with friends. The friends I have made through the festival bring so much joy and LAUGHTER to my life. Thank you Tuscumbia, your Oka Kapassa gives me more than I could ever repay. There’s too many people to tag, but know I love you all!”
—Storyteller: Amy Bruton-Bluemel
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