TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The five 2022 Cherokee Nation Remember the Removal Bike Ride participants left for Cherokee, North Carolina Wednesday morning following a send-off ceremony at the Cherokee Nation W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex in Tahlequah.
Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., Deputy Chief Bryan Warner and other Cherokee Nation leaders joined members of the Council of the Cherokee Nation and family, friends and co-workers of the five cyclists to share well-wishes ahead of their weeks-long journey. Cyclists will join seven from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina later this week to train before their ride officially begins May 30.
“What an honor it is to witness the send-off for the incredible journey of these five Cherokee women. Spring ought to be a time of hope and renewal and building strength, but in the spring of 1838, there was darkness upon us in the Cherokee Nation as we faced down the reality of our forced removal at the hands of the encroaching settlers and the United States government. Yet, Cherokee women who were the leaders among our Cherokee communities continued to do things that instilled hope in our people,” Chief Hoskin said. “Knowing they would be overtaken by settlers, they continued to care for children, they cared for ailing elders, they approached that dark spring with quiet dignity and a commitment to their families and communities. In doing those things to lead, they instilled hope in our people at a time when we desperately needed it. Today, in 2022, there are still obstacles our people face, but there are also opportunities to seize. These five Cherokee women are going to lead us in the weeks ahead and in the years to come, and I couldn’t be prouder of each of them. Strength and hope are still something we need in large measure and I believe this journey will bring those things to these five Cherokee women. We are thinking of them, praying for them, and supporting them along the way.”
The Remember the Removal Bike Ride spans approximately 950 miles along the northern route of the Trail of Tears, beginning in New Echota, Georgia, former capital of the Cherokee Nation, and ending on June 17 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the modern-day capital of the Cherokee Nation. The northern route of the Trail of Tears spans through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
“It’s such a proud day to see these cyclists as they begin this journey after many weeks of training and studying about our Cherokee ancestors. We will stay on bended knee in prayer as they go on this journey, not just for their safety, but for more peace and understanding about what our ancestors went through, about what we go through present day, and about what our future holds for each of us,” Deputy Chief Warner said.
Cherokee Nation cyclists include Emily Christie, 24, of Stilwell; Kayce O’Field, 24, of Tahlequah; Jeanetta Leach, 23, of Rocky Mountain; Madison Whitekiller, 23, of Verdigris; and Desiree Matthews, 18, of Watts.
“The Remember the Removal Bike Ride is an amazing opportunity for us to honor our ancestors and bring awareness to the forced removal. The ride has given me an insight to my family before and during removal, and now I will be able to retrace their steps and honor them,” said Matthews. “Their strength is why my family is still here, and the bike ride has given me the chance to honor that strength.”
This year marks the first for the Cherokee Nation Remember the Removal bike ride team to be comprised entirely of Cherokee women.
“Being a member of the Remember the Removal Ride is truly an honor. I have wanted to participate in this program for such a long time, and I am so grateful that I can honor my ancestors, learn more about my culture and hopefully inspire people to apply as well,” said Leach. “I am going to miss my family while I am gone, but I am very fortunate that I am able to return home after the journey.”
Before leaving, the cyclists had their family trees mapped out by a professional genealogist, providing them insight into their ancestral past as well as connecting any family links they might share with one another.
During the trek, the cyclists will retrace the path of their ancestors and visit several Cherokee gravesites and historic landmarks. Among the sites are Blythe Ferry in Tennessee on the westernmost edge of the old Cherokee Nation, and Mantle Rock in Kentucky, where during the harsh winter of 1838-1839 Cherokees spent several weeks during the frigid winter weather waiting for the Ohio River to thaw and become passable.
Of the estimated 16,000 Cherokees forced to march to Indian Territory in the late 1830s, about 4,000 died due to exposure, starvation and disease, giving credence to the name Trail of Tears.
For more information on the Remember the Removal Bike Ride or to follow along during the journey, visit Facebook.com/removal.ride.