Remember the Removal Ride Builds Bonds and Cultural Awareness

2015 Remember the Removal Riders

2015 Remember the Removal Riders

Guest Commentary

There is no better way to learn about our history, culture and the shared struggle our ancestors endured than to try and replicate their journey and experience it in person. Each summer, that’s exactly what our Remember the Removal bike riders set out to do. This annual event is important and deeply meaningful for our youth who participate.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker

Every summer a group of young bike riders from Cherokee Nation team up with young people from the Eastern Band of Cherokee in North Carolina to retrace on bicycle the route our ancestors took from our homelands in the Southeast to modern-day Oklahoma. This year 12 riders from Cherokee Nation, ranging in age from 16 to 24,  join seven riders from North Carolina to complete the 950-mile trip. They will travel an average of 60 miles per day over a three-week period, passing through seven states: Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The riders will follow the northern route of the Trail of Tears. Every effort has been made to research that historic route to make this journey as authentic and meaningful as possible to each and every participant. Riders make educational stops at relevant museums, gravesites, national parks, churches and other historic sites along the way. An estimated 16,000 Cherokees made the journey on the Trail of Tears to Indian Territory, with more than 4,000 dying from exposure, starvation and disease.

Every day and with each mile covered, they learn more about the Cherokee experience and the true history of our people. They push each other forward and build lifelong bonds as they drive their bodies to the brink of their physical endurance, riding through mountains, heat, humidity and rain.

I have seen how the Remember the Removal experience transforms our young people and gives them a far deeper appreciation for what our ancestors endured just to survive. Accepting the challenge to traverse on bicycle the route our forefathers journeyed on foot will change how these Cherokees view life, allowing them to be closer to Cherokee history than ever before. Our riders not only physically prepare, but they also take classes in leadership, Cherokee language and tribal history before embarking on their journey. Participants become immersed in our culture, giving them context for what they experience along the route.

The Remember the Removal project ensures our tribe’s future leaders never forget our past or the sacrifices our ancestors made.

Another goal is to help raise public awareness of our sometimes-forgotten history along the ride’s route. The sight of almost 20 Native bike riders in colorful Cherokee-themed jerseys cycling together is impressive and draws attention everywhere the group travels. Our riders enjoy interacting with the public and serve as goodwill ambassadors, representing all that is good in our Cherokee youth.

We try to keep the ride as public as possible so that folks back home can follow along on social media. Photos and blog posts are updated daily to the Remember the Removal and Cherokee Nation Facebook sites and other social media channels.

The Remember the Removal ride is a challenge that’s both mentally and physically demanding, but each person will come away with a richer understanding of what our ancestors experienced along the trail that winter in 1839. They start out as individuals, but along the way they become a team, relying on one another while growing physically, emotionally and even spiritually.

That’s something very worthwhile in my book.

I’d like to congratulate the 2015 Remember the Removal riders:

  • Haylee Caviness, 18, Tahlequah, Sequoyah High School
  • Caleb Cox, 19, Miami, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College, Liberty University
  • Tanner Crow, 19, Tahlequah, Sequoyah High School
  • Kayla Davis, 19, Stilwell, Sequoyah High School
  • Charles “Billy” Flint, 25, Tahlequah, Northeastern State University
  • Shawna Harter, 18, Tahlequah, Sequoyah High School
  • Tennessee Loy, 22, Kenwood, Northeastern State University
  • Maggie McKinnis, 16, Hulbert, Sequoyah High School
  • Hailey Seago, 18, Claremore, Claremore High School
  • Tristan Trumbla, 24, Proctor, Cherokee Nation Registration
  • Alexis Watt, 21, Afton, Northeastern State University
  • Wrighter Weavel, 18, Tahlequah, Tahlequah High School

Good luck on your journey, and Godspeed.

Bill John Baker is principal chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.


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