TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation has selected 10 cyclists for its 2017 Remember the Removal Bike Ride this June.
The ride allows young Cherokees to retrace the northern route of the Trail of Tears by bicycle.
The 10 cyclists, ages 16-24, started training in February for the 950-mile journey that spans Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
“It is an opportunity of a lifetime to participate in the Remember the Removal bike ride. It’s a living classroom and leadership skills workshop all rolled into one three-week event,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “Year in and year out we see our young people blossom upon their return. They have a fuller understanding of our Cherokee history and heritage, and they have made lifelong bonds with one another.”
Students were selected based on essays, interviews and a physical to ensure they are up for the grueling challenge.
They travel an average of 60 miles a day, mirroring in part the hardships of their Cherokee ancestors who made the same trek on foot. Of the estimated 16,000 Cherokees who were forced to make the journey to Indian Territory, 4,000 died due to exposure, starvation and disease, giving credence to the name Trail of Tears.
“I’m honored for the opportunity to be able to experience what would just be a fraction of what I can imagine my ancestors went through,” said 2017 Remember the Removal Bike Ride participant Susie Worley-Means, of Stilwell. “The ride will be an invaluable experience, and a huge opportunity to learn more about my heritage and ancestors that I cannot get in the classroom.”
A genealogist will map out each rider’s family tree prior to the trip, providing cyclists with an insight into their ancestral past. The ride takes them to 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 Cherokees huddled together for warmth under a hanging rock, the only shelter they could find during a frigid winter.
The tribe also selected Will Chavez, 50, of Marble City, as the inaugural “Mentor Rider.” Chavez is a participant of the original 1984 Remember the Removal Bike Ride. Two alternates were also selected in the event one of the 10 cyclists cannot participate in this year’s ride.
The Cherokee Nation cyclists will be joined by cyclists from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and start the ride in New Echota, Ga., on June 4.
The 2017 Remember the Removal Bike Ride cyclists from the Cherokee Nation include the following:
Trey Pritchett, 19, Stilwell, Northeastern State University
KenLea Henson, 23, Proctor, Northeastern State University
Susie Worley-Means, 24, Stilwell, Northeastern State University
Brian Barlow, 22, Tahlequah, George Washington University
Hunter Scott, 16, Bunch, Sequoyah High School
Ellic Miller, 23, Tahlequah, Northeastern State University (alternate)
Macie Sullateskee, 19, Tahlequah, Northeastern State University (alternate)
Skylar Vann, 23, Locust Grove, Northeastern State University
Gaya Pickup, 21, Salina, Sequoyah High School graduate
Shelby Deal, 19, Porum, Connors State College
Raven Girty, 20, Gore, Northeastern State University
Will Chavez, 50, Marble City, Mentor Rider
Breanna Anderson, 21, Sand Springs, University of Tulsa
– Anadisgoi, Cherokee Nation release