TEXT and PHOTOS By JODY BRADLEY
On a sunny morning on June 4, sixteen bicycle riders set out from New Echota, Ga. to retrace the Trail of Tears to Tahlequah, Okla.
They’ve finished their breakfast, prepared their bikes, applied sunscreen and stretched their muscles. It is quiet. You can almost hear the mist rising from the fields as the sun hits it. Modern, sleek, bicycles lean against buildings constructed by the Cherokees in the 1800s.
There is no kidding.
There is no joking.
Each face contemplates the journey ahead and the history behind the journey. The group gathers in a prayer circle before their ride. Their faces are solemn as they listen. They hold hands, they pray for a safe journey. As they ride off a warrior cry rises as if they are off to battle. A long road lies before them.
“Remember the Removal, Never Forget” was a vision of Principal Chief Chad Smith of the Cherokee Nation. Its mission is to create strong Cherokee leaders through challenging activity and historical awareness. As they bike from New Echota to Tahlequah, they stop at historical Cherokee markers, gravesites, and landmarks along the way.
The trip takes 19 days, biking 50 to 60 miles a day. This is the fourth year for the Cherokee Nation. This year they have 10 riders.
This is the first year the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation has joined the ride. They have six riders ranging in age from 16 to 60. Jack Teesateskie, Hugh Lambert, Casey Cooper, Tara McCoy, Sheena Kannott, and Blaine Parker ride for the Eastern Band. They have been in training since February preparing for this event.
At the kick off event on the Oconaluftee Island Park, Principal Chief Michell Hicks praised the courage of the riders and joined them in the ride to Kituwah. Tom Belt, a Cherokee Nation citizen, reflected on the purpose of the ride. He asked why we should remember the removal and then reminded that the Cherokees are all one nation and should never forget that until they are one nation again. At Kituwah, the riders participated in a blessing ceremony on the mound conducted by EBCI tribal elder Jerry Wolfe. It was the first time for many of the Cherokee Nation riders to visit the mother town of the Cherokee.
Sixteen Cherokee bikers are on the road, somewhere beyond New Echota. They face hot temperatures, angry drivers, uphill climbs, downhill breezes. At night, they sleep in tents. They ride where our ancestors walked keeping their eyes on the road before them. They ride as One nation under God to “Remember the Removal”. Never Forget.
NOTE: If you’d like to follow the progress of the ride: cherokeeriders.net, remembertheremoval.org, Cherokee Indian Hospital’s Facebook page, remembertheremoval.org/THERIDE.