Just as in After the Mayflower and Tecumseh's Vision, I'm struck by how many turning points there were in Trail of Tears. By that I mean historical points at which the Cherokees could've slowed or stopped the tide of "progress" and perhaps prevented their forced relocation.
In King Philip's and Tecumseh's cases, the Indians were fighting roughly equivalent forces in sparsely populated territories. That made military victory at least a possibility. The same wasn't true in the Cherokees' case. They couldn't have won militarily, but they might've won politically.
Here are some of the key turning points:
If Jackson had died, there might not have been an Indian Removal Act. As Trail of Tears notes, Jackson made that his first priority in office. Moreover, another president probably wouldn't have disobeyed the ruling in Worcester v. Georgia. No president before or since has so blatantly ignored a Supreme Court ruling.
In May, 1836, the Senate began debate on the Treaty. ... Then came the roll call vote. There were 46 Senators present, and passage of a Treaty requires 2/3s of the Senators present to vote in the affirmative.
The tally came in at 31 yeas, 15 nays and the Treaty of New Echota passed by a single vote.
Unfortunately, Martin Van Buren succeeded Jackson and continued his brutal policies. Some notes on his presidency:
Martin Van Buren
Despite all the political and economic forces at work, much of this history depended on the actions of individuals: Andrew Jackson, Major and John Ridge, and a few voters in Congress. With different individuals in place, the outcome might've been different.
To avoid this dependence on fate, the Cherokees probably would've had to act a decade or two earlier. And they probably would've had to accept some sort of compromise. The scenario discussed in 1812: The Rivers of War is one plausible way the Indians could've helped themselves.
Once again, the short version of this long-winded posting is that no, Native defeat wasn't inevitable. The Indians needed only some good luck and foresight to change the outcome.
For more on the subject, see Aftermath in Trail of Tears and Review of Trail of Tears.
Below: Martin Van Buren, Indian hater.