Tahlequah Daily Press

Features

May 29, 2014

CN ‘Removal’ riders embark on journey

TAHLEQUAH — Wednesday morning, the clouds broke over Tahlequah just long enough for a dozen Cherokee Nation youth to embark on a 1,000-mile journey, retracing the paths of their ancestors on the Trail of Tears.

Cherokee Nation “Remember The Removal” riders were honored at a send-off ceremony at the tribal complex before loading into vans to make the trek to Cherokee, N.C. Once they arrive, they will join a half dozen members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee riders and spend the next three weeks bicycling their way back home along the northern route of the Trail of Tears.

“This is a special year for the Removal riders,” said CN Secretary of State Charles Hoskin Jr. “This marks the 175th anniversary of the last group of Cherokees to arrive here along the Trail of Tears, and it’s the 30th anniversary of the Remember The Removal ride.”

District 2 Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd gave the invocation, asked the youth to consider their legacy while returning home.

“I hope you’ll reach back and give credence to what your ancestors have been through,” said Byrd. “I’m proud of you young men and women, and admire your strength and commitment.”

Riders selected for this year’s event include: Cassie Moore, Charli Barnoskie, Jacob Chavez, Jordan McLaren, Kassidy “Tye” Carnes, and Keeley Goodwin, of Tahlequah; Jamekah Rios, of Stilwell; Adriana Collins, Noah Collins, Chance Rudolph, Elizabeth Burns and Madison Taylor, of Claremore; and Zane Scullawl, of Collinsville.

Principal Chief Bill John Baker talked to both parents and the youth about the upcoming journey.

“This is another great day in the Cherokee Nation,” said Baker. “[Parents,] unlike our ancestors, you will stay connected [throughout their journey] by Facebook. You’ll probably have more pictures of them than you can ever imagine. One hundred and seventy-five years ago, Cherokees who were here who knew their relatives were on a journey coming to them had no contact with their loved ones, or even know if they’d ever see their family alive again.”

Baker, having seen a number of Removal rider groups return, knows they will come back changed people.

“Parents, take one last good look at your children, because the next time you see them, they’ll be adults,” said Baker. “The growth these young people are about to achieve is unbelievable. They’ll come back stronger. They’ll come back as lifelong friends. This is a great program.”

Cyclists will put their bodies to the test as they travel an average of 60 miles a day, mirroring the hardships of their ancestors. Baker pointed out that 175 years ago, one in four Cherokees who walked the Trail of Tears died.

“Rely on the strength of our ancestors,” said Baker. “When you’re at 68 miles [for the day] and you’re going 70, remember our ancestors put one foot in front of the other and were not broken. That’s what it is to be Cherokee.”

Will Chavez, father of 2014 rider Jacob, rode in the inaugural event 30 years ago, and offered encouragement to the group.

“I’m proud of you for taking the challenge,” said Chavez. “Riding a bike nearly 1,000 miles through hills and mountains is tough and it will test you, but I know you can do it. It’s one of the toughest things you’ll ever do in life, but also one of the best.”

Chavez said the program was developed to instill leadership in Cherokee youth.

“I think they also wanted to instill confidence and make us bold, bolder for our futures,” said Chavez. “The Trail does not define us as Cherokee people. Be strong and take care of each other. No one can be an island on this journey. You have to work together.”

LaTasha Atcity, Miss Northeastern and 2013 Removal rider, also spoke to the group.

“This is an emotional day,” said Atcity. “You’re about to embark on one of the most amazing journeys you’ll ever experience. You’ll learn as you go our people are strong. You’ll learn to not let fear be the enemy of your future. Don’t be scared.”

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