Indians, Historians, Celebrities Recount Shameful Era In New Documentary: 'Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy'

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Rich-Heape Films, Inc. of Dallas has released a two-hour, high-definition documentary -- "The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy" -- on the forced removal in 1838 of the Cherokee Nation from the southeastern United States to Oklahoma. Indian actor Wes Stui presents the film and James Earl Jones narrates with the voices of singers Crystal Gayle, Rita and Priscilla Coolidge, actor John Buttram, former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder contributing to the telling of the dark chapter in American history. Adolph Hitler studied President Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830 and that "American Holocaust" before attempting to eradicate Europe's Jews. Story research, development and production took almost a full decade to get the highly endorsed, critically accurate educational film to the screen.

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Rich-Heape Films, Inc., a Dallas-based Native American-owned corporation, released this month “The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy.” The two-hour, high-definition feature documents the forced removal in 1838 of the Cherokee Nation from the southeastern United States to Oklahoma.

Wes Studi, the best known Cherokee actor, presents the documentary film, speaking on camera in his native tongue (with subtitles). Noted actor James Earl Jones, who is of blended African and Cherokee heritage, narrates in his customary and convincing tones. 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 ‘Hollywoodization’ 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 funding to produce the stunning 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, NC; Bismarck, ND; Tahlequah, OK, and in Nashville, TN.

Commenting in the film on the “Cherokee Tragedy” 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, Executive Director of the Southwest Museum of the American Indian, 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.”

The documentary is endorsed by the Cherokee Nation, headquartered in Tahlequah, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, based in Cherokee, NC. “The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy” DVD can be ordered online at http://www.richheape.com or by calling toll free 888-600-2922. (MC, V, D, AE, Purchase Orders at Fax 214-696-6306, check or money order.) UPC# 652645680033

Natives, Actors, Re-enactors

Wes 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 Chieftainess who survived the Bell’s Route journey. “Another eloquent voice 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.”

James Earl Jones helped explore the fusion and unique ancestry of American Indian and Black heritage when he narrated “Black Indians: An American Story,” a 60-minute documentary produced by Rich-Heape Films in 2000. It was the first Native American-produced documentary to air on national network television, ABC-TV, during Black History Month in February 2002.

Special acknowledgment 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.

“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 the 55-year-old Long Beach, CA native. “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.

Hitler Studied Indian Removal Act

“It is a distressing fact that Adolph Hitler studied President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830 when planning the isolation and decimation of European Jews,” Heape recalled. “Perhaps, that is one reason there is an abiding worldwide interest today in the ongoing relationship between the U.S. Government and its Native populace.”

Richie and Heape, who are inviting inquiries from both domestic and international film distributors and dealers, are convinced “Trail of Tears…” will find its way to PBS, the American History Channel or other cable and independent movie channels. “We know it will be well-received on the film festival circuit, but it deserves a much broader audience,” they said.

“Our Circle of Life series, dealing with genealogy, health issues, music culture and history,” Richie adds, “are in sharp contrast to our corporate sales and marketing projects. Sometimes it’s for the reel; sometimes it’s for the meal. But filmmakers live for a challenge like ‘Trail’.”

”Just as the Jewish holocaust victims don’t want their story forgotten, neither do American Indians. As sad as the story is, it is part of our country’s heritage and history,” the filmmaker stated. “Just last week, the Cherokee Supreme Court formally ruled that Cherokee Freemen can now be recognized as Citizens, a right that was in limbo for 165 years. Even today the painful chapter continues.”

“My ancestors suffered beyond imagination, finally arriving in Indian Territory almost devoid of children and elders,” Heape lamented. “In a way, they arrived with no past and no future. “Today, however, many of the more than 400,000 enrolled Cherokees survive and thrive in American society, enriching the nation in many ways while remaining in touch with their indigenous heritage.”

Rich-Heape Films, Inc.

The company, founded in 1984, produces award-winning Native American videos, films and movies dedicated to informing, educating and encouraging the awareness of the history, cultures, languages, traditions and aspirations of Native Americans and other Native Peoples. The firm has been recognized as 1999 and 2003 American Indian Business of the Year by the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Texas. The U.S. congress has commended Heape for his extraordinary efforts to document and preserve Native American culture (108th Congressional Record – Congress, Second Session) http://richheape.com/steven-heape-congressional-record.htm In 2003 Heape was one of five Native American filmmakers invited to participate in the strategic film and video content planning for the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC.

NOTE TO MEDIA: Color digital images of the principals, celebrities and film scenes may be captured at http://www.richheape.com/media

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION OR INTERVIEWS:

Steven R. Heape, Executive Producer, Rich-Heape Films, Inc., Dallas, TX; 214-692-1200; http://www.richheape.com

Preston F. Kirk, APR, Kirk Public Relations, Austin, TX; 830-693-4447

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Corporate Logo for Rich-Heape Films, Inc. of Dallas, TexasCorporate Logo for Rich-Heape Films, Inc. of Dallas, Texas277 X 98 pixels; 9.78kb digital color jpeg image"The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy" Documentary - Video Cover Art"The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy" Documentary - Video Cover Art353 X 500 pixels, 28.5kb, color digital jpeg image. High-resolution image available at www.richheape.com/mediaActor James Garner -- a celebrity voice on "The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy" documentaryActor James Garner -- a celebrity voice on "The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy" documentary800 X 1035 pixels, 187kb, color jpeg digital image. High-resolution image available at www.richheape.com/mediaNoted actor James Earl Jones, himself of mixed African-American and Cherokee ancestry, narrates the new documentary "The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy"Noted actor James Earl Jones, himself of mixed African-American and Cherokee ancestry, narrates the new documentary "The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy"340 x 421 pixels; 13.7kb color digital jpeg image. High-resolution images available at www.richheape.com/media.Native American Actor Wes Studi (Cherokee) Presents new two-hour feature documentary on an "American Holocaust," the relocation of the Five Civilized Tribes from the Southeastern U.S. to Oklahoma.Native American Actor Wes Studi (Cherokee) Presents new two-hour feature documentary on an "American Holocaust," the relocation of the Five Civilized Tribes from the Southeastern U.S. to Oklahoma.359 x 434 pixels; 79.9kb color digital jpeg image. High-resolution available at www.richheape.com/media .Documentary movie scene depicts Cherokee Citizens on forced march to Indian Territory in Oklahoma in 1838.Documentary movie scene depicts Cherokee Citizens on forced march to Indian Territory in Oklahoma in 1838.200 x 133 pixels, 51.5kb color digital jpeg image(L-R) Executive Producer Steven R. Heape and Director Chip Richie steady a team of horses on the set of feature length documentary "The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy" which took two years to produce.(L-R) Executive Producer Steven R. Heape and Director Chip Richie steady a team of horses on the set of feature length documentary "The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy" which took two years to produce.400 X 266 pixels, 131kb color digital jpeg image. High-resolution image available at www.richheape.com/media .