By TEDDYE SNELL
After 18 days, 950 miles, numerous bicycle tire replacements and several crashes, 22 Cherokee young adults returned to Tahlequah after completing the 2013 Remember the Removal Trail of Tears commemorative ride.
This year, seven members of the Eastern Band of Cherokees accompanied 15 Cherokee Nation citizens on the ride.
During a welcome home ceremony Friday, CN Principal Chief Bill John Baker praised the youth for their effort.
“I met the riders in Stilwell last night, and listened to their stories,” said Baker. “I couldn’t help but think their stories could not have been that much different than those of our ancestors who traveled the Trail of Tears 175 years ago.”
Baker said he heard stories about the cyclists who missed their families, but would also miss their new family.
“They talked about coming to the end of the Trail,” said Baker. “Some said it would be a sad day; they would be happy to see their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, but the family they’d made along the way with their fellow riders would come to an end, and they’d again be scattered to the four winds. It’s bittersweet. They now have a new family.”
Casey Cooper, CEO of the Cherokee Indian Hospital, Eastern Band of Cherokees, participating in a portion of the ride.
“I’m am overwhelmed by the hospitality of the Cherokee Nation,” said Cooper. “This has been a very humbling experience. During the ride, I tried my best to share my experience with my family and my community. I believe it’s so important.”
He commended the riders as well as the Cherokee Nation for spearheading the effort.
“Pride and lack of humility are the only things that can conquer a people,” said Cooper. “I can say it is not an issue with this group. I commend the Cherokee Nation for being a trailblazer on this issue. We truly must ‘never forget.’ If we lose sight, if we forget, we will surely replicate the dehumanization visited upon us.”
Cherokee Nation Remember the Removal legacy rider Joseph Keener talked about what the experience means to him.
“Having done this before, I get to see people grow,” said Keener.
“Because I’ve been before, I help them out. It’s important to never forget, but it’s also important to remember what you learn along the way and use it to do some good.”
Jon Ross, another CN citizen from Tahlequah, can trace his lineage to Chief John Ross.
“I just want to thank the Cherokee Nation,” said Ross. “I’ve been trying for three years to be able to go on this ride and finally made it. I made friends and family along the way, and this is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.”
LaTasha Atcity, 23, of Tahlequah, also spoke to the group of well-wishers.
“I just want to thank you all for your love, prayers and support,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine doing this ride without all of your support. I’m excited to be home with my parents, but at the same time, am sad to leave my new family behind.”
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