TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Nine cyclists from across the Cherokee Nation have been selected to participate in the 2020 Remember the Removal Bike Ride this June.
The annual ride allows young Cherokees to retrace the northern route of the Trail of Tears by bicycle. Their journey spans about 950 miles from Georgia to Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
The cyclists, ages 17 to 24, began training in December. The tribe also selected Tracie Asbill, a 38-year-old Cherokee Nation citizen and pediatric nurse practitioner, as this year’s mentor rider.
“Participating in the Remember the Removal Bike Ride is truly an opportunity of a lifetime, but it is also mentally and physically challenging, and I commend these young men and women for dedicating themselves to honoring our Cherokee ancestors,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “This group has already spent nearly 15 weeks together training, learning Cherokee language and history, and developing a bond that will last a lifetime. When these individuals return home after their three-week journey in June, they will forever be changed, having gained a deeper understanding of our Cherokee history and of their own perseverance.”
The cyclists will average 60 miles a day along the routes used by their Cherokee ancestors, who made the same trek by foot more than 180 years ago. Of the estimated 16,000 Cherokees who were forced to make the journey to Indian Territory in 1838 and 1839, about 4,000 died due to starvation, disease and exposure to elements, giving credence to the name Trail of Tears.
Participants were selected based on an essay, in-person interviews and a physical to ensure they are up for the grueling challenge. As part of their training, the group spends the weekends undergoing rigorous physical training at the Cherokee Nation Male Seminary Recreational Center and cycling on various routes throughout the 14 counties of the Cherokee Nation. They also train on their own or in groups throughout the week.
Madison Whitekiller, 21, of Claremore, has wanted to participate in the Remember the Removal Bike Ride ever since she was a child. Whitekiller is a former Miss Cherokee and Junior Miss Cherokee and remembers watching the riders accomplish the life-changing task. Those memories inspired her to make the same journey.
“I want to understand the difficulties that my ancestors experienced and honor them by learning about their stories,” said Whitekiller. “The best way for me to appreciate them is by learning all that I can about our culture, language, history and traditions. The bike ride is an opportunity for me to do this while building connections with other Cherokee people.”
Shace Duncan, 17, of Westville, and is a sophomore at Sequoyah High School in Tahlequah. Duncan said he hopes to gain a connection to his Cherokee ancestors by participating in the bike ride.
“I feel that as a Cherokee citizen it is my obligation to try and better understand our ancestors and the struggles they have gone through,” said Duncan. “I hope I can get something that I can’t get anywhere else. I hope that the next time I have a conversation with someone that is uninformed about the Cherokee removal I can appropriately inform them as well as tell them my experience.”
The cyclists will also have their family tree mapped out by a professional genealogist prior to the trip, providing them insight into their ancestral past as well as connecting any family links they might share with one another.
During the three-week trek, the cyclists will visit several Cherokee gravesites and historic landmarks. Among the sites are Blyth’s Ferry in Tennessee, the westernmost edge of the old Cherokee Nation, and Mantle Rock in Kentucky, where many Cherokees huddled together for warmth under a hanging rock as the only source of shelter during frigid winter weather.
The Cherokee Nation cyclists will be joined by 10 cyclists from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians in North Carolina. Together, they will start the ride in New Echota, Georgia, on June 1.
For more information on the Remember the Removal Bike Ride or to follow along during the journey, visit www.facebook.com/removal.ride.
The 2020 Remember the Removal Bike Ride cyclists from the Cherokee Nation include the following:
Shace Duncan, 17, Westville
Tyrus Goodrich, 24, Tahlequah
Whitney Roach, 21, Tahlequah
Kaylee Smith, 19, Tahlequah
Natasia Wacoche, 19, Hulbert
Tracie Asbill, 38, Tahlequah
Heather True, 19, Pryor
Madison Whitekiller, 21, Claremore
Melanie Giang, 20, Tulsa