EBCI selects Remember the Removal Riders
By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Seven members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will mount bicycles in the humid heat of early June to embark on a journey of a lifetime. The Tribe has announced its selections for the 2017 Remember the Removal Ride, a 950-mile event which retraces the northern route of the Trail of Tears through North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.
Those chosen to to represent the EBCI include: Chavella Taylor, Bo Taylor, Zane Wachacha, Renissa McLaughlin, Taylor Wilnoty, Haley Cooper, Shannon Swimmer, and alternate Sheyahshe Littledave.
The first Remember the Removal ride was held in 1984 by citizens of the Cherokee Nation. Twenty-five years later, in 2009, the event was revitalized and has been held every year since. The Eastern Band of Cherokee joined the ride in 2011, and this year will mark the sixth year of participation for EBCI tribal members.
“I’ve wanted to do it for a few years now,” said Chavella Taylor, a 26-year-old from the Painttown Community who works as a data specialist at Dora Reed Head Start. “But, this year I felt that I was ready. I just want to be able to inspire my family, my kids and hopefully my community that they can do whatever they want to do.”
Chavella will be riding for someone else too. Her brother, Sergio, passed away in 2013, and she will carry his memory with her. “His stickball team was supposed to go to Oklahoma, and he passed a few days before they left so I’m hoping to be able to go for him and go for myself.”
Bo Taylor, a 47-year-old from the Big Cove Community works as the executive director of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. “I’ve always had a deep love and appreciation for the Cherokee culture.”
He said several of the former RTR bike riders have told him of the “life-changing experience” they’ve gained from the event. “I think we all need something like that. We feel we need to do something…if anything, I am doing this for me. It’s a challenge that I want to undertake. It’s a long way. I know it’s going to be physically, mentally, and spiritually challenging, but that’s something that I feel I need right now.”
He added, “I feel this is a time for me to reconnect with the culture again and get back to the grassroots of why I fell in love with the culture. I’ve always been seen as the cultural guy – the guy that sings and dances – and, this trip will tie in a lot of history into that…I want to see some of these places that I’ve read about.”
Zane Wachacha, a 20-year-old from the Snowbird Community, is a sophomore at Warren Wilson College studying political science. “With everything that’s going on in the world and in the U.S. today, like in North Dakota, I want to be a voice of change. I want to be a lawyer for a tribe so I can help my people out…and, this is my way of voicing my opinion and just feeling like I have a purpose as an EBCI member.”
Renissa McLaughlin, a 48-year-old from the Birdtown and Big Cove Communities, is the director of the Kituwah Preservation and Education Program. She was actually selected for last year’s ride, but was unable to make the journey as she broke her ankle before departure.
“I had a really good summer and good experiences this summer, so I believe that everything happens for a reason. If I had been gone, I wouldn’t have had those experiences.”
Heavily involved in the culture from her home community of Big Cove, Renissa commented, ‘When we would go out to the water, even though it was cold, the one thing I kept in mind was, no matter how cold it is or how tired we are, our ancestors suffered more than that. That’s been something that’s been on my mind a lot.”
She said the trip for her will be something tangible, “I’ll be able to stand where they stood. I’ll be able to touch the earth where they were and where their remains are. That physical connection and emotional connection I think is just going to be over-powering for me.”
Taylor Wilnoty, a 21-year-old from the Painttown Community, is a teacher at the Dora Reed Children’s Center. She commented, “I just really want to understand what happened on the Trail of Tears. I know it’s just a bike ride, but I see comments on Facebook all the time like, ‘it didn’t happen to you, get over it’. Yeah, it didn’t happen to me, but it happened to my ancestors, and I want to have a better understanding so I can make a comment back and say, ‘it was my ancestors’ and have meaning behind it.”
She added, “My biggest reason is the fulfillment of knowing what exactly happened.”
Haley Cooper, an 18-year-old from the Yellowhill Community, is a senior at Swain County High School and the youngest rider from the Eastern Band of Cherokees this year. “I want to do the bike ride for multiple reasons, but the biggest one being I want to show people that we, as a Tribe, are still here despite all things, despite the Removal and laws that had been created to suppress Native Americans. I want to show people that we’re still here as a Tribe and that we still survived.”
Shannon Swimmer, a 37-year-old from the Painttown Community, is the Clerk of Court at Cherokee Tribal Court. “My reason for wanting to participate is to honor the ancestors. In 2009, I had the opportunity to be one of seven EBCI runners to carry the eternal flame from Cherokee, NC to Red Clay, Tenn. for a commemorative joint council session with the EBCI and Cherokee Nation. Runners from Cherokee Nation also ran the route from Cherokee to Red Clay and together we traced portions of the Trail of Tears. It was physically and mentally demanding to complete the run, but we encouraged one another, supported one another, and we gained strength from remembering our ancestors who walked that route in harsh winter conditions.”
She added, “Through the perseverance and determination of our ancestors we’re still here, surviving and thriving in North Carolina and in Oklahoma. Our Tribe may have been divided, but we’re still one people. By remembering the tragedy of the Trail of Tears while celebrating our continued existence, we honor our ancestors’ sacrifices as well as their resilience and that’s very empowering. We’re survivors and we should all take pride in that.”
An alternate for this year’s ride, Sheyahshe Littledave, a 32-year-old from the Painttown Community, works as an administrative assistant at the Cherokee Indian Hospital. “I needed to challenge myself…I needed to do something that was outside of my box and just face that fear. I am an alternate, so there is the possibility that I won’t be able to go, but the reason that I agreed to still be an alternate is that a lot of what I want to achieve I think I can achieve in still being able to participate in the training. I’m very excited.”