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Cherokee Chief: Jackson's $20 Ouster a 'Small but Meaningful Vindication'

The chief of the Cherokee Nation hailed President Andrew Jackson’s removal from the front of the $20 bill as “a small but meaningful vindication” for those who died on the Trail of Tears.

Beginning in 1838, Jackson evicted the Cherokee from their lands east of the Mississippi and sent them on a forced march to present-day Oklahoma.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker noted in a statement released by the tribe today that Jackson “defied a U.S. Supreme Court ruling and forced the removal of our Cherokee ancestors from homelands we’d occupied in the Southeast for millennia.”

“His actions as president resulted in a genocide of Native Americans and the death of about a quarter of our people. It remains the darkest period in the Cherokee Nation’s history,” Baker said. “Jackson’s legacy was never one to be celebrated, and his image on our currency is a constant reminder of his crimes against Natives.”

The seventh president’s continued presence on the $20 bill has been “an insult to our people and to our ancestors, thousands of whom died of starvation and exposure and now lie in unmarked graves along the Trail of Tears,” the chief said.

“This is a small but meaningful vindication for them, and for our tribal citizens today,” he added. “The Cherokee Nation applauds the work of Oklahoma Senator James Lankford, the U.S. Treasury and all those who recognized the injustices committed at the hands of President Jackson, and worked to replace his image with the image of Harriet Tubman, whose legacy represents values everyone can be proud of.”

Lankford introduced a resolution in January to oust Jackson and put a woman on the $20 bill.

The legislation noted that “though a military hero in the War of 1812,” President Jackson “instated Federal policies…to remove millions of American Indians from their historic homelands” leading to “the reductions of the homelands, and ultimately the deaths, of thousands of American Indians across the continent.”

“The forced removal of American Indians by Andrew Jackson and the subsequent inhumane settlement of Indian lands represent a major blight on the proud history of the United States,” the Oklahoma GOP senator’s bill added.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced the new bill designs in an open letter today.

“The decision to put Harriet Tubman on the new $20 was driven by thousands of responses we received from Americans young and old. I have been particularly struck by the many comments and reactions from children for whom Harriet Tubman is not just a historical figure, but a role model for leadership and participation in our democracy,” Lew said. “…The reverse of the new $20 will continue to feature the White House as well as an image of President Andrew Jackson.”

That canceled Lew’s original proposal to boot Alexander Hamilton from the front of the $10 bill. The back of the bill “will honor the story and the heroes of the women’s suffrage movement against the backdrop of the Treasury building.”

Many members of Congress urged Lew to swiftly move forward with the changes — Lew said “due to security needs, the redesigned $10 note is scheduled to go into circulation next” — as, said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), “women have waited long enough.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said U.S. history “is not Andrew Jackson versus Harriet Tubman.”

“It is Andrew Jackson and Harriet Tubman, both heroes of a nation’s work in progress toward great goals,” Alexander said. “It is unnecessary to diminish Jackson in order to honor Tubman. Jackson was the first common man to be elected president. He fought to save the Union. He defined an American era. He helped found the Democratic party. And he was a great Tennessean. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. gave us wise advice: ‘Self-righteousness in retrospect is easy, also cheap.’”