By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has selected its representatives for the 2019 Remember the Removal ride. Ten tribal members will join riders from the Cherokee Nation as they retrace the northern route of the Trail of Tears on a 950-mile bike journey.
Representing the EBCI will be: Dr. Blythe Winchester, Manuel Hernandez, Dre Crowe, Monica Tafoya, Skye Tafoya, Zach Goings, Keyonna Owle, Micah Swimmer, Danielle Toineeta, and Tonya Carroll.
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 marks the eighth year of participation for EBCI tribal members.
This year’s EBCI riders are a varied group, which is common each year. “I love what the RTR ride and preparation represent,” said Dr. Winchester, 41, a geriatrician at Cherokee Indian Hospital and certified medical director at Tsali Care Center from the Wolftown Community, who said that the training and cultural learning that will take place prior to the ride is just as important to her as the actual event. “I believe connecting more with my heritage and culture, while developing more of an understanding of historical trauma, will help me be a better person and healer.”
She added, “A person I admire and respect told me recently that there are doctors who are coincidentally Cherokee, but I am a Cherokee who is coincidentally a doctor. That statement really affected me in a positive way, and I want to continue to do everything I can to preserve that and make my family, patients, and community members proud.”
Crowe, a 21-year-old senior at Mars Hill University from the Big Y Community, commented, “I chose to sign up for the RTR ride because I am interested in learning more about our language, history, and culture so that I can be a part of the preservation of our culture as a whole. Also, I want to be educated more about the trauma my ancestors faced that shaped our Tribe into what it is today. This ride will be a great opportunity to create friendships, learn, educate, and push myself out of the comfort zone.”
Owle, 35, a tribal liaison for the TCGE (Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise) Board of Advisors from the Birdtown Community, said, “Selfishly, I signed up for myself; to learn more about my family history, tribal history and culture. I also wanted to prove to myself that I am strong enough to do this ride and take on the challenge.”
Hernandez, 35, a member of the Big Y Community employed with the Tribe’s Public Health and Human Services division as a regulatory and compliance department training coordinator, said his reason for signing up for the ride is simple. “I want to gain more knowledge of my Cherokee history and retrace the steps of the Trail of Tears.”
Danielle Toineeta, a 25-year-old member of the Painttown Community who is a business applications coordinator at Cherokee Indian Hospital, said the ride is something she’s wanted to do for a few years and this feels like the right time. “I want to do it to honor our ancestors and the things they went through, and I want to take on a challenge much bigger than myself and to prove to myself that I can do anything I set my mind to.”
Micah Swimmer, 32, Painttown Community, has dedicated his life and career to preserving the Cherokee language and culture. The adult language and education coordinator at Kituwah Preservation and Education Program, he noted, “I chose to sign up for the ride so that I could learn more about the Trail of Tears and the events that took place.”
Skye Tafoya, 29, Wolftown Community, is an artist and holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree from the Institute of American Indian Arts and a Masters of Fine Arts from the Pacific Northwest College of Art. “I signed up for RTR to connect with the history of our Cherokee tribal people. I want to honor my ancestors and show my gratitude for our continued resiliency to maintain our identity and presence in this world.”
Tonya Carroll, 33, Birdtown Community, works with the Cherokee Boys Club Ray Kinsland Leadership Institute. “I want to do the Remember the Removal bike ride for the whole experience; becoming part of a team, the physical challenge, learning more about Cherokee history and culture in general, and learning more about my ancestors that were on the actual Removal. I think there is more significance in learning the history of a place if you can actually be in that place while learning, and this is the perfect opportunity for that. Past participants tell me it is a life-changing experience, and I am looking forward to the challenges and rewards of the experience.”
Monica Wildcatt-Tafoya, 38, Wolftown Community, is the manager of the Cherokee Children’s Home. “Although it is a fraction of what our ancestors endured, I believe one of the truest ways to experience this part of our history is to be a rider through the stories that are tied to historic places along the trail. My husband and children are tied to both sides of the Trail and that is super special to me.”
Zach Goings, 33, Birdtown Community, works as an assistant casino manager for table games at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort. He hopes to gain a better understanding of the Trail of Tears. “I’ve spoken to a lot of people who have went on the ride, and they talk about it being a life-changing experience to be in the same places as our ancestors were. I want to have these experiences and see these places for myself.”
The ride will depart in early June from New Echota, Ga. Look in the One Feather for more details on the 2019 ride, including date and time for the annual send-off event at the Kituwah Mound, as they are released.