Trail of Tears Revisited: A Historic Team of Female Cyclists Participating in the Remember the Removal Bike Ride | Recreation


TAHLEQUAH – They have the courage to pedal almost 950 miles.

They spend three weeks cycling in remembrance of a tragic migration that happened nearly 200 years ago.

And they are proud to have been selected for the trip.

“They” are Emily Christie, 24, of Stilwell; Kayce O’Field, 24, of Tahlequah; Jeanetta Leach, 23, of Rocky Mountain; Madison Whitekiller, 23, of Verdigris; and Desiree Matthews, 18, of Watts.

They will go down in history as the first all-female team to represent the Cherokee Nation in the annual Remember the Removal Bike Ride.

The forced displacement of the Cherokees from the eastern lands to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) became known as the Trail of Tears. Of approximately 16,000 Cherokees who were driven to march into Indian Territory in the late 1830s, approximately 4,000 died due to exposure, starvation, and disease.

Cyclists participating in the Remember the Removal Bike Ride will follow the northern route of the Trail of Tears and cycle through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma retracing the path ancestors. The 2022 Remember the Removal Bike Ride will kick off May 30 in New Echota, Georgia (former capital of the Cherokee Nation), and end June 17 in Tahlequah (current capital of the Cherokee Nation).

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The Remember the Removal Bike Ride was created by the Cherokee Nation in 1984 so that young Cherokee people could retrace the Trail of Tears and get a sense of what the ancestors experienced when they made the grueling journey on foot.

The ride became an annual event in 2009, according to information about the ride on Cherokee.organd riders from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians began joining their Cherokee Nation counterparts on trips in 2011. Seven riders from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and runners from the Cherokee Nation were to converge in Cherokee, North Carolina North, before the start of the 2022 voyage.

Chuck Hoskin Jr., Senior Chief of the Cherokee Nation, described the runners as inspirational.

“I mean, these young ladies have already done amazing things in training and in the amazing things they’ll be doing in the weeks to come, but it still reminds us of our past and what we’ve been through.” he declared. “To turn that pain into something powerful and positive, it’s really amazing to see.”

What are the criteria to be a participant? Riders were selected based on testing, in-person interviews and physical examination to ensure they are ready for the demanding journey. Training for the hike (they will average about 60 miles a day) began in December and included biking on various routes through the Cherokee Nation Reservation.

“They do a lot of intense training, but I don’t think anything fully prepares them – from what I’ve heard – for the long journey,” Hoskin said. “But yet, they get there. And when they come back, they’re not just physically stronger. They are spiritually stronger.

Recall Removal Bike Ride alum Kaylee Smith had this to say after completing the 2021 ride: “There really are no words for how mentally and physically draining this trip has been, but it was so rewarding at the same time.”

Riders will visit Cherokee burial sites and historic landmarks along their route, including Blythe Ferry in Tennessee, at the western end of the ancient Cherokee Nation, and Mantle Rock in Kentucky, where during a winter harsh and freezing of 1838-1839, the Cherokees spent weeks waiting for the Ohio River to thaw and become passable.

Current riders, of course, have an easier journey ahead of them. “But I also think because they’re retracing the steps and learning a lot more about the history, they’ll come back with this deeper appreciation of their own roots, and that’s what we all need to do,” Hoskin said. .

The 2022 runners were introduced Wednesday to a crowd that gathered for a send-off event at the WW Keeler Tribal Complex in Tahlequah. Hoskin, Deputy Chief Bryan Warner and other Cherokee Nation leaders joined members of the Council of the Cherokee Nation in recognizing the historic collection of horsemen.

“It’s such a proud day to see these riders begin this journey after many weeks of training and studying our Cherokee ancestors,” Warner said.

“We will remain on our knees in prayer as they embark on this journey, not only for their safety, but for greater peace and understanding about what our ancestors went through, what we are going through today, and what our future holds for us. each of us.”

Hoskin’s remarks touched on the past and future of the Cherokee Nation. He spoke specifically about the leadership of Cherokee women before the Trail of Tears.

“Spring should be a time of hope, renewal and strengthening,” Hoskin said. “But, in the spring of 1838, darkness was upon us in the Cherokee Nation as we faced the reality of our forced expulsion at the hands of the encroaching settlers and the United States government. Yet the Cherokee women who were the leaders of our Cherokee communities have continued to do things that have given hope to our people.

Knowing that their lands would soon be overrun by settlers, Cherokee women continued to care for sick children and elderly people. Hoskin said they approached this dark source with quiet dignity and commitment to their families and communities.

“By doing these things to lead, they have instilled hope in our people at a time when we desperately needed it,” he said.

“Today, in 2022, there are still obstacles facing our people, but there are also opportunities to be seized. These five Cherokee women will lead us in the weeks to come and in the years to come, and I couldn’t be more proud of each one of them. Strength and hope are always something we need in a big way, and I believe this journey will bring those things to these five Cherokee women. We are thinking of them, let us pray for them and support them along the way.

Hoskin believes the Runners will be better equipped to lead the Cherokee Nation when they return.

“Ladies, we will need your leadership in the years to come,” he said. “And I think they will inspire a lot of other young people to follow in their footsteps.”

For more information on the walk or to follow the route, go to

Five Oklahoma representatives from the Cherokee Nation are participating in the 2022 Remember the Removal Bike Ride. Why is the journey important to them?

Emily Christie, 24, Stilwell

“It’s important to me because it’s important to our nation. It’s our history. It’s our heritage and it’s what we stand for, so more people know about the Cherokee Nation and who we are. and what we do. And it’s so important to us to honor our ancestors and honor those they lost on the trail of tears.”

Kayce O’Field, 24, Tahlequah

“It’s very important to me to honor our ancestors and that way we can kind of raise awareness because the trail of tears was supposed to kill us, but it’s very important for the younger generation to know that we are still there and to show where our resilience and perseverance comes from.”

Jeanetta Leach, 23, Rockies

“This bike ride is important to me because I want to honor my ancestry and I want so much to learn and bring that back with me to my community, my family and my friends.”

Madison Whitekiller, 23, verdigris

“It’s really important to me because I think we need to honor our ancestors every year and put them first. I feel like a lot of times they kind of get forgotten and it’s really their sacrifices that make us brought here today. And so I think it’s important that we honor them and take this journey for them.”

Desiree Matthews, 18, Watts

“This journey is important to me because it gave each of us the opportunity to learn more about our family before and during the move, and it gave us all the chance to learn more about them. and to specifically honor them and all the others who went. Our ancestors were so strong to be able to do that, but I think all Cherokees are so strong.”

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