Original 1984 Remember the Removal Bike Ride participant and 2017 Remember the Removal Bike Ride Mentor Rider Will Chavez leads the 19 other cyclists to the Cherokee Nation Courthouse Square in Tahlequah.
The 2017 Remember the Removal Bike Ride cyclists rolled into Tahlequah Thursday, completing their three-week journey retracing the northern route of the Trail of Tears.
The ride started on June 4 in New Echota, Ga., the former capital of the Cherokee Nation prior to removal. The 14 Cherokee Nation cyclists and six Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian cyclists rode nearly 1,000 miles across seven states.
The Cherokee Nation held a return ceremony at the Cherokee Nation courthouse square on Thursday, where tribal leaders, friends and family gathered to greet them.
“When I look out at these fine young adults today, I see a perseverance that carried our people from the old homelands to the new homelands. It is a perseverance that allowed our ancestors to not just survive, but prosper in their new home. I see that same Cherokee perseverance in these young men and women today,” said Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “Many times they have been asked, ‘Why are you doing this?’ with the answer always being, ‘To remember our ancestors and what they overcame.’ I commend each and every one of these riders for honoring them and showcasing the strength of the Cherokee people.”
The original Remember the Removal Bike Ride was in 1984, with the leadership program resuming as an annual ride in 2009. Cyclists learn about Cherokee Nation history, language and culture and get a glimpse of the hardships their ancestors faced while making the journey on foot.
This year, 33 years after the original ride, Will Chavez, a member of the 1984 group and assistant editor for the Cherokee Phoenix, joined the 2017 participants to serve as the inaugural mentor rider.
“I really took being a mentor to heart. I wanted to encourage them and lead them the best I could,” said Chavez, 50. “I knew what it would take to come out here. You run through a lot of emotions. It’s tough.”
Throughout their journey, the Remember the Removal Bike Ride participants visited historical landmarks that were important to Cherokee people, including Blythe Ferry in Tennessee, which was the last part of the Cherokee homeland walked by the ancestors before beginning their journey into Indian Territory, and Mantle Rock in Kentucky, which provided shelter to many ancestors as they waited for safe passage across the frozen Ohio River.
Of the estimated 16,000 Cherokees forced to make the Trail of Tears journey to Indian Territory, about 4,000 died due to exposure, starvation and disease.
The 2017 Remember the Removal Bike Ride cyclists included the following:
Breanna Anderson, 21, Sand Springs
Brian Barlow, 22, Tahlequah
Ellic Miller, 23, Tahlequah
Gaya Pickup, 21, Salina
Hunter Scott, 16, Bunch
Hunter Scott, 16, Bunch
Macie Sullateskee, 19, Tahlequah
Raven Girty, 20, Gore
Shelby Deal, 19, Porum
Skylar Vann, 23, Locust Grove
Susie Q. Means-Worley, 24, Stilwell
Trey Pritchett, 19, Stilwell
KenLea Henson, 23, Proctor
Will Chavez, 50, Marble City, mentor rider
Sarah Holcomb, 28, Vian, trainer
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
Chavella Taylor, 26, Painttown, North Carolina
Israel Rodriguez, 26, Yellowhill, North Carolina
Renissa McLaughlin, 48, Birdtown/Big Cove, North Carolina
Sheyahshe Littledave, 32, Painttown, North Carolina
Zane Wachacha, 20, Snowbird, North Carolina
Taylor Wilnoty, 20, Painttown, North Carolina
Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director
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