The 1835 Treaty of New Echota, which led to the Trail of Tears, provided for the Cherokee to have a congressional delegate. In the nearly two centuries since the treaty was signed, no delegate has ever been seated in Congress. If seated, Teehee — like delegates from Washington, D.C,. and various U.S. territories — wouldn't be able to cast final votes on legislation but could serve and vote as a member of House committees.
"Today, the promise made in that treaty has still not been filled and this mural represents the importance of recognizing that right," Paly senior Samantha Lee said at the unveiling ceremony.
Teehee spoke at the ceremony, telling students that she was grateful for their support and the effort they put into creating the mural, which is mounted on an exterior wall of the 800 Building.
"Today you are unveiling a mural that represents more than just the image of me," said Teehee, who served as the first Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs under President Barack Obama. "It symbolizes Cherokee Nation's ongoing fight for our rightful representation in Congress and the important role that young people play in advocating for justice in this country."
The idea for the mural came about after the students learned about the Treaty of New Echota and the Trail of Tears as part of the Social Justice Pathway program. Kellyn Scheel, who was the mural's lead artist, told the Palo Alto Weekly that the treaty was one of the most "shocking aspects" of Native American history that she and her classmates learned about.
Harvey Vostrejs, who worked on research for the project similarly said, "We started digging a bit deeper on our own and from there we decided that this is something we should focus on — this is something that needs to be spoken about."
The Treaty of New Echota forced the Cherokee people off of their traditional homeland. They were then forced to go on the Trail of Tears to reach land in present-day Oklahoma. By one estimate, over 4,000 people (or a fifth of the Cherokee population) died during the ordeal, according to the National Park Service.
Reed Jadzinsky, who worked on the art team, said that creating a mural was meant as a way to connect with other students at the high school about what they'd learned.
"That is what was really intriguing for us — not doing this project that was just for us but for our whole community," Jadzinsky said.
Students conducted historical research to create the mural and collaborated with the Cherokee Nation to make sure that the design was culturally accurate, Scheel said. The mural incorporates elements and symbols of Cherokee culture, including the Cherokee seal surrounded by seven stars because seven is the most important number in Cherokee culture and history, according to a Paly webpage about the project. The mural is also painted in the colors of the Cherokee flag.
To allow more students to participate in painting the mural, the team decided to split the design up into 16 square panels and use a paint-by-numbers system.
"While this process proved incredibly complicated and time consuming, everyone worked hard to make it happen, putting in countless hours and troubleshooting issues and developing new skills," Scheel said at the ceremony. "I'm excited to see our art being used as an agent in creating social change."
To learn more about the mural, visit paly.net/same.
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