TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Six cyclists from the Cherokee Nation will participate in the 2022 Remember the Removal Bike Ride this June, retracing an estimated 950 miles along the northern route of the Trail of Tears by bicycle. This marks the first year for the team to be comprised entirely of Cherokee women.
The ride spans from Georgia to Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma over nearly three weeks.
“For generations, we’ve always honored our ancestors and the devastation that they endured during the Trail of Tears,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “The Remember the Removal Bike Ride is such a tremendous opportunity for our Cherokee youth to learn the history and honor the legacy of their ancestors who endured some of the worst tragedy in the history of the Cherokee Nation. It helps the cyclists learn more about the history of the Cherokee Nation, but also helps them pay tribute to those that suffered on the trail to Indian territory. Perhaps as importantly, this journey allows them to reflect on how the Cherokee people have persevered over those past obstacles. It wasn’t without pain, it wasn’t without setbacks, but today, because of what our ancestors overcame, these six Cherokees will be accomplishing a life-changing journey across seven states.”
The cyclists will average around 60 miles a day along the routes used by their Cherokee ancestors, who made the same trek by foot more than 180 years ago. Of the estimated 16,000 Cherokees who were forced to make the journey to Indian Territory in 1838 and 1839, about 4,000 died due to starvation, disease and exposure to the elements.
Participants were selected based on an essay, in-person interviews and a physical to ensure they are up for the grueling challenge. The group began training in December 2021. As part of their training, the group spent weekends undergoing rigorous physical training and cycling on various routes throughout the Cherokee Nation Reservation.
Emily Christie, 24, of Stilwell, works at the Cherokee Nation Outpatient Health Center in Tahlequah. She said being chosen for the ride was an emotional experience.
“Being selected to be a member of the 2022 Remember the Removal Bike Ride team is a true honor. I am very passionate about the history of the Cherokee Nation and I am so blessed to be on a team and be involved with others who share the same desire to learn more about our history, share our knowledge, and honor and remember our ancestors,” Christie said. “The impact of the Trail of Tears created a bond that could never be broken. We fought through devastation, embraced our community, and embraced each other, our brothers and sisters. This bond lives in us today and it is renewed every time we Remember the Removal. I am participating to honor those who helped establish our new life and pay tribute to those we lost. I am participating, not just to remember, but to never forget. This ride will be one of the heaviest, most special, and most moving experiences I will have in my lifetime.”
Kayce O’Field, 24, of Tahlequah, was chosen to participate in the Remember the Removal Bike Ride.
“It is a huge honor to have been selected for the 2022 RTR bike ride and to be able to retrace the steps of my ancestors,” O’Field said. “I’ve already learned so much about myself and where I come from. It is a humbling experience. I am extremely grateful for my team and for the resiliency of where we come from. The knowledge that I have learned thus far, and will continue to learn on the ride, is something special I will keep with me for the rest of my life. I am truly honored and blessed for the opportunity to represent my family, my tribe, and my ancestors.”
The cyclists had their family trees mapped out by a professional genealogist, providing them insight into their ancestral past as well as connecting any family links they might share with one another.
During the trek, the cyclists will visit several Cherokee gravesites and historic landmarks. Among the sites are Blythe Ferry in Tennessee on the westernmost edge of the old Cherokee Nation, and Mantle Rock in Kentucky, where during the harsh winter of 1838-1839 Cherokees spent several weeks during the frigid winter weather, waiting for the Ohio River to thaw and become passable.
The Cherokee Nation cyclists will be joined by seven cyclists from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians in North Carolina. Together, they will start the ride in New Echota, Georgia, a former capital of the Cherokee Nation, on May 30.
For more information on the Remember the Removal Bike Ride or to follow along during the journey, visit www.facebook.com/removal.ride.
The 2022 Remember the Removal Bike Ride cyclists from the Cherokee Nation include the following:
Emily Christie, 24, Stilwell
Kortney Dry, 24, Tahlequah
Kayce O’Field, 24, Tahlequah
Jeanetta Leach, 23, Rocky Mountain
Madison Whitekiller, 23, Verdigris
Desiree Matthews, 18, Watts