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Trail of Tears effort underway to preserve and mark path in Arkansas

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The Trail of Tears has footsteps across Benton and Washington counties, and one group wants to ensure those steps are not forgotten.

“We are working with the U.S. National Park Service to specifically mark the Trail of Tears route through the two counties,” said John McLarty, project manager for the Trail of Tears Association’s Arkansas Chapter.

The signs are designed by the Park Service and purchased through the Park Service’s National Historic Trail Division, McLarty said.

Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin, in a statement, expressed support for the signs.

“The Cherokee Nation supports enhancing historic signage along the Trail of Tears routes in Arkansas if it brings more awareness and education about our forced removal. We commend the National Park Service and National Trail of Tears Association, as well as the Arkansas chapter, for continuing to research the routes and places that centered on this dark chapter in our history,” Hoskin said.

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that the initiative is statewide, but will begin with placing markers at specific locations in Northwest Arkansas. The purpose is to remind people of the trail’s complex history, McLarty said.

The federal government forced the Cherokee to move from their homes in the Appalachians to Indian Territory, which is now Oklahoma.

“The story of the Cherokee is one of determination, perseverance and rebuilding,” McLarty said. “They would have preferred to stay in the Appalachians, but they are actually thriving in Oklahoma.”

The signs will be placed along roadways, in parks and on parts of the Razorback Greenway. McLarty hopes the first three signs will be placed in Pea Ridge National Military Park by June 20, which is when the Remember the Removal bike team will ride through the park. The team rides the Trail of Tears’ northern route in remembrance of the forced removal.

Kevin Eads, superintendent of the National Military Park, welcomes the new signs and the association’s efforts.

“They’re great partners, and we’ve really enjoyed working with them,” Eads said. “I’m excited about getting some additional signs.”

The military park has signs that indicate trail distance, Eads said.

“We’re supplementing those. There’ll be more of them and they will be at some key locations,” Eads said.

About 200 to 300 signs will be placed along the trail, and about 50 to 80 will be in Northwest Arkansas, McLarty said. It is unknown what the total project cost will be, he said.

The Park Service placed Trail of Tears signs in the 1990s, but those were for the Auto Tour route along numbered state and federal highways approximate to the actual trail. That route was done because it was more efficient to get permission to put up the signs from state highway departments, and also because research to identify a historic route was not complete, McLarty said.

“So much research has been done in the last eight to 10 years that the National Park Service has determined that they can identify and sign a more accurate route closer to the original route,” McLarty said. “Now that we know enough of the original route, it’s worth the effort to go to the meetings with cities and the counties.”

The new signs will be for a historic route, on the actual paths that the Cherokee walked, said Cory Donnelly, landscape architect for National Trails Intermountain Region, a Park Service program.

“Our initiative, our focus, has changed in recent years. We are focused on signing the historic route,” Donnelly said. “The Auto Tour route still exists, but we have found it’s more powerful to have a historic route.”

The Auto Tour signs will remain, Donnelly said.

The Park Service will place the Trail of Tears signs in all nine states the historic trail runs through, working with partners that range from city to county municipalities to private citizens, Donnelly said.

Arkansas will be one of the first states to install the historic route signs, which will be placed on county roads, city streets and highways, McLarty said.

“Our project will take longer to get all the permissions,” he said. “Every city it goes through, we’ll need permission from that city. It’s a lot of leg work. It’s a two- to three-year project.”

Some of the roads that made up the trail include Old Missouri Road in Springdale and Fayetteville and Old Wire Road in Fayetteville and Rogers, McLarty said.

While the Park Service will pay for some of the signs, the association will raise the rest of the money from historical societies, chambers of commerce and various other sources, McLarty said.

The Trail of Tears cross the Razorback Greenway in four different places, which includes one in Bentonville, one in Springdale, one in Johnson and one in south Fayetteville. All four locations will receive a sign, McLarty said.

The Historic Route is a work in progress, Donnelly said.

“Before the trail was even designated we’ve had partners working on this for many many decades, and the research continues to happen,” she said. “We have a designated alignment that was based on research.”

Research is crucial, Donnelly said.

“We go to local partners and find out what research was done and see if more research needs to be done before we mark the route,” she said. “We try not to mark the Historic Route unless it is backed by solid research, which includes historic maps, historic journals.”

McLarty said receipts from purchases made by the Cherokee along the trail have helped identify locations.

The 16,000 Native Americans who traveled the Trail of Tears in 1838 and 1839 were broken into 17 detachments. Four detachments went by river and 13 traveled to Oklahoma from various directions through Benton and Washington counties, McLarty said.

All 13 detachments came into the state from Missouri, entering the Pea Ridge Military Park area, McLarty said.

The Cherokee originally lived in the southern Appalachian Mountains stretched across North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.

“The reason they were removed was because in the 1830s, President Andrew Jackson and the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act to have the tribes of the southern Appalachians moved by force if necessary,” McLarty said. “The white European settlers wanted the land and the resources. It was all enhanced by the discovery of gold in northern Georgia in 1828.”

The Cherokee were industrious, McLarty said. They lived in thatched huts, which McLarty described as wooden structures thatched with grass, and log cabins. He said they owned cattle, hogs, ferries and ran supply stores, and by the 1830s had been doing business with European settlers for 150 years. However, the European settlers were increasing in number and wanted land to build plantations.

Jackson had campaigned for Indian removal and signed the removal act on May 28, 1830, following what McLarty described as intense Congressional debate. The act authorized Jackson to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi for Indian lands within existing state borders, according to the Library of Congress website.

“About half the county was outraged by this. They didn’t want it,” McLarty said.

Intellectuals of the time such as Ralph Waldo Emerson decried the removal.

“It was politically controversial to remove all those tribes,” McLarty said. “The bottom line was land and resources. The increasing European settlers wanted the land, wanted the plantation and wanted the gold. But it was not without extreme protest, not only from the Indians, but a large portion of the white European population was against removal.”

There were Cherokee who saw the writing on the wall and left the Appalachians for Oklahoma, but the 16,000 who refused were removed by federal troops and the Georgia militia.

“The roundup started on the front porch of every Cherokee cabin. They were brought to these detention camps in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee and held in these camps, and then they were to be escorted to Indian territory,” McLarty said.

The first four detachments that went by boat had a difficult journey on the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers during a fiercely hot summer.

“The water was low. They couldn’t make it all the way to the Indian Territory. They were hitting ground,” McLarty said.

The remaining 13 detachments learned of these difficulties and pleaded and petitioned to travel by land. The Cherokee traveled by foot and on wagon through harsh winter conditions, and 4,000 died from sickness, starvation and winter conditions.

The Cherokee did not let themselves be defined by death and despair, instead thriving in the land that would become Oklahoma, McLarty said.

“Because they are so industrious and hardworking, they immediately started doing OK,” McLarty said. “The first years were rough, but within a decade they were raising crops and hogs and trading with Fort Smith and Fayetteville.”

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More than just pie, the Pecan industry sets sights on snacks

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The humble pecan is being rebranded as more than just pie.

Pecan growers and suppliers are hoping to sell U.S. consumers on the virtues of North America’s only native nut as a hedge against a potential trade war with China, the pecan’s largest export market.

The pecan industry is also trying to crack the fast-growing snack-food industry.

The retail value for packaged nuts, seeds and trail mix in the U.S. alone was $5.7 billion in 2012, and is forecast to rise to $7.5 billion by 2022, according to market researcher Euromonitor.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based American Pecan Council, formed in the wake of a new federal marketing order that allows the industry to band together and assess fees for research and promotion, is a half-century in the making, said Jim Anthony, 80, the owner of a 14,000-acre pecan farm near Granbury, Texas.

Anthony said that regional rivalries and turf wars across the 15-state pecan belt — stretching from the Carolinas to California — made such a union impossible until recently, when demand for pecans exploded in Asian markets.

Until 2007, most U.S. pecans were consumed domestically, according to Daniel Zedan, president of Nature’s Finest Foods, a marketing group. By 2009, China was buying about a third of the U.S. crop.

The pecan is the only tree nut indigenous to North America, growers say. Sixteenth-century Spanish explore Cabeza de Vaca wrote about tasting the nut during his encounters with Native American tribes in South Texas. The name is French explorers’ phonetic spelling of the native word “pakan,” meaning hard-shelled nut.

Facing growing competition from pecan producers in South Africa, Mexico and Australia, U.S. producers are also riding the wave of the Trump Administration’s policies to promote American-made goods.

Most American kids grow up with peanut butter but peanuts probably originated in South America. Almonds are native to Asia and pistachios to the Middle East. The pecan council is funding academic research to show that their nuts are just as nutritious.

The council on Wednesday will debut a new logo: “American Pecans: The Original Supernut.”

Rodney Myers, who manages operations at Anthony’s pecan farm, credits the pecan’s growing cachet in China and elsewhere in Asia with its association to rustic Americana — “the oilfield, cowboys, the Wild West — they associate all these things with the North American nut,” he said.

China earlier this month released a list of American products that could face tariffs in retaliation for proposed U.S. tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods. Fresh and dried nuts — including the pecan — could be slapped with a 15-percent tariff, according to the list. To counter that risk, the pecan council is using some of the $8 million in production-based assessments it’s collected since the marketing order was passed to promote the versatility of the tree nut beyond pecan pie at Thanksgiving.

While Chinese demand pushed up prices it also drove away American consumers. By January 2013, prices had dropped 50 percent from their peak in 2011, according to Zedan.

U.S. growers and processers were finally able in 2016 to pass a marketing order to better control pecan production and prices.

Authorized by the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937, federal marketing orders help producers and handlers standardize packaging, impose quality control and fund research, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees 28 other fruit, vegetable and specialty marketing orders, in addition to the pecan order.

Critics charge that the orders interfere with the price signals of a free, unfettered private market.

“What you’ve created instead is a government-sanctioned cartel,” said Daren Bakst, an agricultural policy researcher at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Before the almond industry passed its own federal marketing order in 1950, fewer almonds than pecans were sold, according to pecan council chair Mike Adams, who cultivates 600 acres of pecan trees near Caldwell, Texas. Now, while almonds appear in everything from cereal to milk substitutes, Adams calls the pecan “the forgotten nut.”

“We’re so excited to have an identity, to break out of the pie shell,” said Molly Willis, a member of the council who owns an 80-acre pecan farm in Albany, Georgia, a supplement to her husband’s family’s peanut-processing business.

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Navajo Nation marks 150th anniversary of return to homeland

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A long-lost original copy of a historic treaty signed in 1868 by leaders of one of the nation’s largest American Indian tribes and the U.S. government will go on display later this year as the Navajo Nation commemorates a dark, but significant chapter of history.

Navajo Vice President Jonathan Nez and other tribal officials gathered Tuesday in Albuquerque to detail some of the events that will mark the signing of the treaty 150 years ago.

That treaty is what cleared the way for tribal members to return to their homeland in the heart of the American Southwest after being rounded up years earlier by the U.S. cavalry and forced to make an arduous and deadly trek hundreds of miles to a camp in eastern New Mexico.

Nez recounted the hardships of what came to be known as the Long Walk, saying many Navajos died along the route to Bosque Redondo. He also talked about those who stayed behind and hid in canyons and on mesa tops, often foregoing the warmth of a fire to avoid capture.

“We want our younger generation to know about our history,” Nez told a room packed with tribal officials and reporters.

He also talked about problems facing tribal communities, from suicide to alcoholism, drug addiction and violence. He said he wants to tap into the resilience of those Navajo ancestors who endured the hardships of the 1800s.

“What this will do is inspire, encourage our people out there that they can’t give up, to jump back up, dust themselves off and to fight even harder than ever before for what they believe in,” Nez said.

Navajo President Russell Begaye has said this year’s commemoration is also about telling the story of the Long Walk, the signing of the treaty and the return home from the perspective of Native Americans. He and other tribal officials say one goal is to address what they called a “legacy of misrepresentation” that has stemmed from that era.

Before research and planning began for this year’s events, there were only two known copies of the historic treaty. The whereabouts of one is now a mystery and the other has been kept by the National Archives and Records Administration.

The third copy turned up only recently when the relatives of a peace commissioner who was involved in the negotiation and signing of the treaty in 1868 found the document in a trunk in the family attic.

It was rolled up and bound with the original but faded ribbon. It was in pristine condition along with notes and other documents that historians hope might fill in some of the blanks from that time.

Pages of that copy will be on display starting in June at the Bosque Redondo Memorial near Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

The National Archives is partnering with the Navajo Nation to display the other original copy at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona, for the month of June.

It took more than two years of planning to make the exhibition possible as this marks only the second time an original treaty has gone back to a homeland.

Museum director Manny Wheeler said the treaty is more than just a document to the Navajo people.

“When I saw the document and I saw the marks of all of our leaders on that paper, it is a powerful thing and it is very much so opening up dialogue among all Navajos about who we are, where we’ve come from and where we’re going,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler suggested that as much as the document was key to the Navajos’ past, it also has the power to change the future by awaking tribal members to the importance of preserving their culture and language.

The leaders of the Navajo Nation’s three branches of government signed a proclamation earlier this year declaring 2018 as the year of the treaty, and the tribe launched a website .

The commemoration also includes a day of prayer across the Navajo Nation, cultural nights, tours of the tribal council chambers and a run that will span more than 400 miles (644 kilometers) from Fort Sumner to the Navajo capital.

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Push to legalize marijuana upends governor’s race in New Mexico

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca on Thursday called for the expansion of New Mexico’s medical marijuana program and for legalization of recreational use, saying the poverty-stricken state is missing out on millions of dollars in tax revenues and jobs that could be spurred by the industry.

Apodaca released his plan solidifying his position as a supporter of legalization as the race for governor heats up.

Apodaca pointed to New Mexico’s history as the first state to allow for research and experimentation with marijuana as a therapeutic drug. It was his father, then-Gov. Jerry Apodaca, who signed that legislation in 1978.

The research program stalled and it wasn’t until 2008 that New Mexico rolled out its medical cannabis program.

“Why are we shooting for being the last to legalize cannabis for adult use?” Apodaca said.

The push for legalization comes as New Mexico’s medical marijuana program has grown exponentially in just the last two years. Producers licensed under the program reported record sales of more than $86 million in 2017 and the number of patients enrolled now tops 50,000.

“We know the medical benefits of it. And we also know the opportunities of legalization for adult use,” Apodaca said, suggesting expansion of the long-standing medical marijuana program along with legalization could result in an estimated $200 million of additional tax revenues for the state.

The state’s largest producer, Ultra Health, announced that it has acquired farmland in southern New Mexico and has plans for what the industry says could be the largest cultivation facility in North America.

The property spans nearly one-third of a square mile (81 hectares) in Otero County. It will include 20 acres (8 hectares) of indoor cultivation, 80 acres (32 hectares) of outdoor cannabis fields and another 100 acres (40 hectares) of outdoor hemp fields.

Ultra Health president and CEO Duke Rodriguez said the company is preparing for a future in which New Mexico stands to benefit from expanded medical use and possibly recreational use.

Apodaca’s plan calls for lifting the current limits on the number of plants producers can grow and reducing costly licensing fees.

Other Democratic candidates have been more cautious.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she would work with state lawmakers to ensure there are adequate health, safety and enforcement measures in place. She called for a “thorough analysis” of recreational pot programs in other states as part of that effort.

Lujan Grisham was in charge of the state Health Department when the medical marijuana program began. Aside from the legalization debate, she said supporting producers to create the latest medicines and methods to help patients would help create jobs and expand the industry.

State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, another Democratic candidate, has sponsored unsuccessful legislation to decriminalize possession of small quantities of pot but has said the state is lacking infrastructure and isn’t ready yet to legalize.

Cervantes recently lauded efforts at the local level by the state’s largest city — Albuquerque — to decriminalize possession of small amounts. He said he would do the same as governor and that it would mark a first step.

Republican congressman and gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce expressed reservations about legalization at a forum earlier this month. He said it might create a stumbling block for people trying to climb out of poverty and addiction to other drugs.

“I just don’t see how it fits that we’re going to deal with addiction and yet we’re going to tell people, ‘This one is OK.’ I’ve watched it for a lifetime. I just am very nervous with recreational marijuana,” he said.

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