TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Six cyclists from the Cherokee Nation will participate in the 2023 Remember the Removal Bike Ride this June, retracing an estimated 950 miles along the northern route of the Trail of Tears by bicycle. This marks the second consecutive year for the team of cyclists to be comprised entirely of Cherokee women.
The ride spans from Georgia to Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma over nearly three weeks.
“The Remember the Removal Bike Ride opens such a tremendous opportunity for several Cherokees each year to learn the history and honor the legacy of their ancestors who endured some of the worst tragedy in the history of the Cherokee Nation,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “It not only helps the cyclists learn about the history of the Cherokee Nation, but also allows them to reflect on how the Cherokee people have persevered during that time and in the decades that followed. To honor what our ancestors overcame, these six Cherokees will be accomplishing a life-changing journey across seven states.”
This year’s RTR team formally introduced themselves to the Council of the Cherokee Nation, Principal Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner on May 15.
Around 60 miles will be covered by the cyclists each day along the routes used by their Cherokee ancestors, who made the same trek by foot more than 180 years ago. Of the estimated 1,600 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 the elements.
Participants were selected based on an essay, in-person interviews and a physical to ensure they are up for the grueling challenge. The group has been training since December. As part of their training, the group spent weekends undergoing rigorous physical training and cycling on various routes throughout the Cherokee Nation Reservation.
Mentor rider Libby Neugin, 40, of Tulsa, is a Navy Veteran and current Vice President of the Cherokee Nation Veterans Color Guard. She is participating in the Remember the Removal Bike Ride to pay homage to her great-great-great-great-grandmother, Rebecca Neugin, who was the last Cherokee survivor of the Trail of Tears.
“I exist because of her, and remembering her is how I can say thank you for that,” Neugin said. “What I hope to gain from this experience is a greater appreciation for what my ancestors went through while on the trail. I’m looking forward to seeing where my family came from, to walk in my ancestors’ footsteps. I want to stand on the trail and say, ‘Thank you,’ to let the ones that didn’t make it that their deaths were not in vain and that Cherokees survived and are flourishing.”
Cyclist Amaiya Bearpaw, 22, of Jay, is a senior at Northeastern State University studying geography and sustainable studies with a minor in Cherokee language.
“I wanted to do the ride because I wanted to challenge myself and learn more about my people’s history,” Bearpaw said. “I also want to be an advocate for the next generation to show them that they can push themselves and gain the same knowledge. I look forward to visiting the old Cherokee Nation and achieving the connection to the land from which our ancestors once were.”
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 bike ride, cyclists will visit several Cherokee gravesites and historic landmarks. Among the sites is Blythe Ferry in Tennessee on the westernmost edge of the old Cherokee Nation, as well as Mantle Rock in Kentucky, where Cherokees spent several weeks during the harsh winter of 1838-1839 waiting for the Ohio River to thaw and become passable.
The Cherokee Nation cyclists will be joined by a team of cyclists from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina. Together, they will start the ride in New Echota, Georgia, a former capital of the Cherokee Nation, in June.
For more information on the Remember the Removal Bike Ride or to follow along during the journey, visit https://www.facebook.com/removal.ride.
The 2023 Remember the Removal Bike Ride cyclists from the Cherokee Nation include the following:
Faith Springwater, 19, Tahlequah
Libby Neugin, 40, Tulsa
Amaiya Bearpaw, 22, Jay
Mattie Berry, 18, Warner
Kenzie Snell, 19, Park Hill
Samantha Cavin, 18, Pryor