Front row (L-R): Amari McCoy, Emilee Chavez and Jennifer Johnson. Back row (L-R): Sky Wildcat, Autumn Lawless, Courtney Cowan, Parker Weavel, Lily Drywater, Dale Eagle and Daulton Cochran.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Nine cyclists from across the Cherokee Nation will participate in the 2018 Remember the Removal Bike Ride this June, marking 180 years since the Trail of Tears.
The annual ride allows young Cherokees to retrace the northern route of the Trail of Tears on bicycles. Their journey spans about 950 miles from Georgia to Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
The nine cyclists, ages 18 to 24, started training in January. The tribe also selected Jennifer Johnson, a 48-year-old Cherokee Nation citizen and Oklahoma City lawyer, as this year’s mentor rider.
“These Remember the Removal cyclists have been chosen for the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “By the time they leave for North Carolina on May 29, these young Cherokees will have trained together for five months. I am convinced their lives will be forever changed throughout this 950-mile journey, and that upon their return home to the Cherokee Nation in late June, they will have established lifelong bonds with each other while gaining a deeper understanding of Cherokee history and their own heritage.”
Each day, cyclists will travel an average of 60 miles along the routes used by their Cherokee ancestors, who made the same trek on foot 180 years ago. Of the estimated 16,000 Cherokees who were forced to make the journey to Indian Territory, about 4,000 died from starvation, exposure to the elements and disease.
Cyclists were selected based on essays, interviews and a physical to ensure they are up for the grueling challenge.
Amari McCoy, 21, of Sallisaw, hopes to learn more about her Cherokee roots while connecting with her ancestors along the journey. McCoy is a student at Carl Albert State College and previously served on the Cherokee Nation Tribal Youth Council.
“My reason for wanting to do the bike ride mirrors that of a lot of my fellow riders: identity,” McCoy said. “Growing up, I defined myself as an athlete and I was even voted Most Athletic of my senior class. Then when I graduated, I struggled because I didn’t know who I was without a ball in my hands. I grew up in a traditional family and I was raised at the stomp ground, so I was surrounded by my culture and that always felt right to me, even when nothing else did.”
Dale Eagle, 23, of Tahlequah, works in transportation at Cherokee Nation W.W. Hastings Hospital.
“It means a lot to me to be chosen. This ride is a way for me to meet and talk to other people and make new friends while going on such a long journey,” Eagle said. “I see this as a way to learn about my heritage and so far it’s fantastic. The history of our ancestors is one of the main reasons I joined up. Just being in training, I’m already learning a lot more about Cherokee history.”
A genealogist will put together each rider’s family tree before the trip, providing the group with insights into their ancestral past and any family links they might share. During the trek, riders will visit several Cherokee gravesites and historic landmarks, including Blythe’s Ferry in Tennessee, the westernmost edge of the old Cherokee Nation, and Mantle Rock in Kentucky, where many Cherokees huddled together for warmth under a hanging rock, the only shelter they could find during devastating winter weather.
Cherokee Nation cyclists will be joined by cyclists from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina and start the ride in New Echota, Georgia, on June 3.
For more information on the Remember the Removal Bike Ride or to follow along during the journey, visit www.facebook.com/removal.ride and watch for the #RTR2018 hashtag on the official Cherokee Nation Twitter account @CherokeeNation.
The 2018 Remember the Removal Bike Ride cyclists include the following:
Daulton Cochran, 21, Bell, Tulsa Community College
Emilee Chavez, 18, Tahlequah, Sequoyah High School
Lily Drywater, 21, Tahlequah, Northeastern State University
Dale Eagle, 23, Tahlequah, Tahlequah High School graduate
Parker Weavel, 21, Tahlequah, Northeastern State University
Sky Wildcat, 23, Tahlequah, Northeastern State University
Courtney Cowan, 24, Kansas, Northeastern State University graduate
Autumn Lawless, 22, Porum, Northeastern State University
Jennifer Johnson, 48, Oklahoma City, Mentor Rider
Amari McCoy, 21, Sallisaw, Carl Albert State College
Cherokee Nation News Release
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