From New Echota, Ga., northwest to the Cherokee capital in Talequah, Okla., the “Remember the Removal” bike riders completed their 1,000-mile trip and were welcomed home by family and officials of the nation.
A few of the riders will be traveling back to their homes in Cherokee, N.C., but for most, they ended their trip along the Trail of Tears route Thursday. They had traveled to Cherokee to meet up with those who would take part in this annual ride.
In September, the 175th year commemoration of the Trail of Tears removal will be complete.
“These men and women will retrace our tribal nation’s route to Oklahoma — from our ancestral homelands in the east to our current capital city,” said Principal Chief Bill John Baker in a media release prior to the beginning of the ride.
“It will be a personal and life-changing journey for them. As a student of history, and specifically Cherokee history, I am envious of the journey they are undertaking and the understanding they will attain by travelling the route of removal.”
“Remember the Removal” bike ride began in 1984, according to Taylor Alsenay.
On that ride, Jacob Chavez’ father Will was a member of the team who took the trail.
Will is now a senior reporter for the Cherokee Nation’s newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, the first newspaper published by the Native American people.
“Each day is hard, but different and fun,” said Jacob as they neared completion of their journey.
Alsenay was also on the first trip. He was interviewed during the 2013 Remember the Removal ride.
“I was fortunate to be on the first ride. We trained for a year and when we started the trail, we rode 100 miles each day,” Alsenay said.
In 1984, the Trail of Tears was not very well documented or marked. Since then, many studies have been completed and the Trail of Tears is in the National Park System, with markers and maps placed.
The riders from the Cherokee Nation included Charli Barnoskie, Cassie Moore, Keeley Godwin, Adriana Collins, Noah Collins, Chance Rudolph, Jordan McLaren, Elizabeth Burns, Zane Scullawl, Madison Taylor, Jamekah Rios, Kassidy “Tye” Carnes and Jacob Chavez. The riders from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are Patricia Watkins, Richard Sneed, Ty Bushyhead, Kelsey Owl, Russell Bigmeat and Katrina Sneed.
The riders were flanked with a Cherokee Nation Marshal’s car and trailers filled with repair parts and other supplies.
After beginning in New Echota, which was the former Cherokee capital prior to them being forced from the state of Georgia into Tennessee at Red Clay, the riders made their way in to the Red Clay Historical Park where they camped overnight before committing to the trek ahead.
Passing into the Chatata Valley and the area where emigration camps were set up for the 1838 removal effort by the federal government, the riders got to experience and visualize their ancestor’s history.
Jacob Chavez said his trip was “very enlightening,” traveling in his ancestor’s footsteps.
Prior to leaving Charleston, Jordan McLaren said she had several friends who rode the trail in the past years. She learned early on that she was related to several key people in the Cherokee government in the 1830s.
“It’s been really interesting on the history that we’ve learned so far and what our Native Americans, our fellow people, have done,” she said.
“They’re such strong people that they just kept going, even though 4,000 of them died. But we made it, we’re still alive, we’re still here thriving in our communities,” said McLaren as the trip neared the end.
The group traveled through Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky and Illinois. Several thousand people followed the trip on social media.
Through high and low country, heat, storms and other conditions, they completed their journey through the past, looking toward their future.
“We celebrate a group of exceptional young Cherokee citizens, as their journey across seven states led them back home to Oklahoma,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker.
“People who witness the riders rolling through their communities along the trek often ask why our teens are doing this, and the answer is always the same. It is to remember: remember our ancestors, remember their hardships 175 years ago and, most importantly, remember their courage and resilience,” Parker said.