TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — On Friday (June 18), nine Cherokee bicyclists finalized their 950-mile journey for the 2021 Remember the Removal Bike Ride with a homecoming ceremony. It took place in the capital city of the Cherokee Nation. Six cyclists were from the Cherokee Nation and three from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina.
The cyclist retraced the northern route of the Trail of Tears in honor of their ancestors who were forced to move from their homelands in the southeast over 180 years ago.
They started the memorial ride on May 31 in New Echota, Georgia. They continued through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. The cyclist were welcomed back at the Cherokee Nation Peace Pavilion in downtown Tahlequah.
“Today the Cherokee people grew stronger as these nine cyclists received the heroes’ welcome that they deserve,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “The strength and growth of the Cherokee people have always been the work of generations, and it’s always been the work of community. You’ve seen that on display on this ride in both community and in former riders that are lending a helping hand to the new and younger generation of riders. This is what keeps us strong and keeps building us up to continue into the future as a tribe.”
Over the last three weeks, the cyclists also visited historical spots significant to Cherokee History. They visited Blythe Ferry in Tennessee, which is the last piece of Cherokee homeland Cherokee ancestors stood on before beginning their forced trek to Indian Territory. They also stopped at Mantle Rock in Kentucky, where Cherokee ancestors sought shelter while waiting for the Ohio River to thaw during a cold winter.
“Before the ride even started, I wasn’t in the best mental place at all. I didn’t think of myself as a strong individual. I doubted myself a lot and I had a lot of insecurities,” said Cherokee Nation cyclist Kaylee Smith, of Tahlequah. “But coming back from this ride I feel like I can truly do anything I can set my mind to and I couldn’t have done that without my team.”
The ride’s inaugural event was held in 1984 to illustrate the hardships that the Cherokee people faced. It’s estimated that 16,000 Cherokees were removed from Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina in the spring of 1838. Almost 4,000 of them died during the roundup, incarceration, and removal.
“This ride was really challenging in all aspects and I think the biggest thing that pushed me was that my ancestors had to walk it. Our ancestors did not have the best circumstances and that’s what kept me going. Because we’re descendants of strong people, we can get through it, too,” said Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians cyclist Raylen Bark of North Carolina. “What I want others to know is just that we’re still here. Even though you don’t hear about this ride nationally, the strength of our ancestors is alive and well in each and every rider.”
The cyclists were received in Tahlequah by friends and family from the Cherokee Nation, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and the United Keetoowah Band.