TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Remember the Removal Alumni Association hosted its first gathering on April 15 at Northeastern State University. The association is made up of cyclists who partook in past “Remember the Removal” rides that commemorate the removal of Cherokee people from their southeastern homelands.
The rides are held annually in June and began in 1984 when 19 cyclists left Cherokee, North Carolina, and rode approximately 1,100 miles through six states to Oklahoma to bring attention to the 1838-39 removal and to get Trail of Tears routes marked.
After a 25-year hiatus, the ride returned in 2009 and cyclists left from New Echota, Georgia, the former Cherokee Nation capital, to ride to Oklahoma. In 2011, cyclists from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians began joining CN cyclists to retrace the 950-mile northern route of the Trail of Tears.
During the April 15 banquet, which the Oklahoma Trail of Tears Association sponsored, alumni riders shared a meal and visited.
Alumni riders David Comingdeer, who rode in 2011, and Tress Lewis, who rode in the inaugural 1984 trip, spoke about their experiences and what the ride meant to them.
Comingdeer said he spoke for himself and two of his children, who rode in 2011.
“The main things I wanted to convey to the attendees today was the responsibility we have as individual Cherokee citizens to perpetuate our beliefs, our traditions and our history. The thing we have in common as riders is that we have a unique perspective on that route. We have a very unique perspective on the forced removal story. We have felt that trail beneath us,” he said.
He said the ride pays respect to those who walked the trail and those who did not survive it. He said Cherokee people should ensure that this history is not forgotten and that it’s passed down in families.
“I would also encourage young people to participate in this ride in the future and continue paying this tribute, which this is the most extraordinary way we can pay tribute to the people who perished on this route,” he said.
Lewis said she wanted people to know that the 1984 group became family during its month-long ride.
“I was a little backward and a little shy, and that trip, because it was a hard trip, it really pushed all of us, and we really had to come together as a team, work together and help each other. Because it pushed us we found out right away that we could be pushed...and that as long as we worked together and did become a family, we were strengthened,” Lewis said. “We became people we didn’t know we were. I am a natural leader. I don’t think I would have ever found that out had I not been on that trip. That’s amazing to me, the strength that’s in me that I didn’t know I had, and I think that’s true for all the riders on that trip.”
Melissa Lewis, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Duluth, presented the results of her study about the “Remember the Removal” ride and its effects on the riders from 1984 to 2015.
She said she discovered 84 themes that riders from both groups, who rode 31 years apart, talked about.
“They’re all amazing. I could write several books about the amazing accomplishments of these riders,” she said. “Some of the things that stick out for me the most are how this program not only taught the participants how to treat each other like family, how to help each other out, how to be there for each other, but it translated to their real lives.”
She said by talking to the 1984 group she learned about “amazing changes” in the lives of the participants they attributed to the “Remember the Removal” program and its leadership component. “People were able to get into leadership positions in their jobs. Many of them decided to work for the (Cherokee) Nation. Many of them decided to work with Cherokee kids or Native American kids in particular, and they’re really strong members of their communities and strong members of their families.”
National Trail of Tears Association President and Tribal Councilor Jack Baker attended the event to present awards to the 1984 riders.
“I think the ‘Remember the Removal’ project is a very important project. We see the (19)84 riders, and they’ve been leaders in the Cherokee Nation,” Baker said. “That’s why I foresee, all of you that have been on the ride, that you will be coming back and giving back to the Cherokee Nation because it’s really a training in leadership and you understand what our ancestors went through and you understand what it is to be Cherokee, and therefore you are willing to give back to the Cherokee Nation and the Cherokee people.”
For more information about the alumni association, call Tennessee Loy at 918-864-6377 or email <a href="mailto: RtrAlumniAssociation@gmail.com">RtrAlumniAssociation@gmail.com</a>.
PARK HILL, Okla. – A group of filmmakers visited the Cherokee Heritage Center in early March to interview descendants, as well as those involved with the Cherokee language program, about Sequoyah, the creator of the Cherokee written language.
Choctaw Nation citizen and filmmaker LeAnne Howe and James Fortier, Pic River Ojibway First Nation citizen and filmmaker, are co-producing the documentary on the life of Sequoyah.
“So we’re all Indian working together to make this documentary film,” said Howe. “We’re all very excited to be here.”
The working title for the film is “Searching for Sequoyah.” Those involved with the project said that with Sequoyah, there are just so many mysteries and that he is a fascinating subject. The documentary will include “modern-day Sequoyahs” who work daily at preserving and strengthening the Cherokee language.
United Keetoowah Band citizen Sequoyah Guess spoke to the Cherokee Phoenix about the importance of the filmmakers reaching out to decedents.
“It’s one of the few times that they have actually come to the families and asked these different questions, you know, about Sequoyah,” Guess, a Cherokee and descendent of Sequoyah, said.
For more information regarding the project, email Jace Weaver at email@example.com.
PARK HILL, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen and artist Troy Jackson won the 45th annual Trail of Tears Art Show and Sale grand prize during a reception and awards ceremony on April 8 at the Cherokee Heritage Center.
“I entered in the sculpture category,” Jackson said. “My piece is titled ‘Building of a Nation.’ One of the things that inspired me…we’re at a time where our country is going to elect a new president. So I think sometimes of what it takes to build a nation and for a nation to survive.”
Jackson has entered the show 10 years and this year marks the fourth time he has won the grand prize.
He said the show is important for remembering Cherokee traditions while embracing the present.
“Maybe we don’t necessarily live the way we did years ago, but we still need to pass it on to our children about the way things were so we never forget,” he said. “I think it’s also a good time for artists such as myself to be doing contemporary work because we can also be showing what is being done and how we live today.”
The Trail of Tears Art Show is touted as the longest-running Native American art show in Oklahoma. It is open to any federally recognized tribal citizen.
“It’s a special show because it’s juried,” CHC Curator Callie Chunestudy said. “We really try to pick the best of the best artists from the entire country and display their work and award them accordingly.”
Chunestudy said there were 80 artists from 15 tribes with 144 art pieces entered and 130 being accepted. She said the awards total more than $15,000 in cash prizes each year. The Trail of Tears Art Show and Sale runs through May 7.
<strong>Trail of Tears Art Show winners</strong>
GRAND PRIZE – Troy Jackson, Cherokee Nation, “The Building of a Nation”
Painting, First Place – Dan HorseChief, Cherokee Nation, “The Firecatcher”
Sculpture, First Place – Matt Girty, Cherokee Nation, “Spring Forward Awohali”
Basketry, First Place – Mike Dart, Cherokee Nation, “The Burdens We Carry”
Pottery, First Place – Chase Earles, Caddo Nation, “Kahwis Kan Duck Pot”
Trail of Tears, First Place – John “Walkabout” Owen, Cherokee Nation, “Leaving Grandoma on the Trail”
Jewelry, First Place – Antonio Grant, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, “Joined Birds”
Graphics, First Place – Diana Stanfill, Cherokee Nation, “Wes Studi”
Miniature, First Place – Ronda Moss, Cherokee Nation, “Treasures Within Us”
Bill Rabbit Legacy Award – Shan Goshorn, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, “The Fire Within”
Emerging Artists, First Place – Sheila Brazil, Cherokee Nation, “A Guardian for the Journey”
Betty Garner Elder Award – Bessie Russell, Cherokee National Treasure
Awards for the Cherokee Art Market Youth Competition were also announced. The competition showcased work from Native youth in grade 6-12.
<strong>Cherokee Art Market Youth Competition Show</strong>
BEST OF SHOW – Cierra Fields, Cherokee Nation, “Chief’s Honoring Robe”
Judges Choice, Grades 6-8 – Sydney Sawney, Cherokee Nation, “Across the Fire”
Two Dimensional, First Place, Grades 6-8 – Jaedyn Poulick, Cherokee Nation, “Red Dressed Indian”
Three Dimensional, First Place, Grades 6-8 – Tanner Williams, Cherokee Nation, “Shield of the Nation”
Judges Choice, Grades 9-10 – Noah Wilson, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, “Dark Starry Night”
Two Dimensional, First Place, Grades 9-10 – Kylee Osburn, Cherokee Nation, “Arabic Woman”
Three Dimensional, First Place, Grades 9-10 – Trey Pruitt, Cherokee Nation, “Dagsi Wants to Play”
Judges Choice, Grades 11-12 – Jana Yarborough, Cherokee Nation, “The Bird of Nature”
Two Dimensional, First Place, Grades 11-12 – TeAnna Woodrome, Choctaw Nation, “Nuni”
Three Dimensional, First Place, Grades 11-12 – Cierra Fields, Cherokee Nation, “Chief’s Honoring Robe”
PARK HILL, Okla. – More than 1,000 young people from area schools visited the Cherokee Heritage Center on March 31 and April 1 during its Indian Territory Days event to learn about Cherokee people and their culture in the late 1890s.
Tonia Weavel, CHC education director, said the event celebrates the Adams Corner rural village, which is the CHC’s 1890 village depicting lifestyle in the late 19th century.
“We’re happy to have children from all schools, home-schooled children and children from public and private schools come and enjoy the day of Cherokee culture,” she said.
Officials expected about 1,000 children to attend Indian Territory Days this year. Weavel said when combining the adults and children who attended, there were more than 1,000 people.
Some stations in the event included games such as stickball, Cherokee marbles and blowgun shooting.
“We have chunkey and we have two very famous Cherokee storytellers, Robert Lewis and Sequoyah Guess,” she said.
Chunkey is a Native American game played by rolling disc-shaped stones across the ground and throwing spears at them in an attempt to place the spear as close to the stopped stone as possible.
There were also some hands-on stations, including basketry, weaving, pottery and tools and weapons.
Cherokee Nation citizen and parent Alicia Dickerson said she thought her and her children’s attendance was important because they’re all Cherokee.
“It’s important for me to be here today because my kids are Cherokee and it’s their heritage and we want to learn more about who we are,” she said. “I would have to say my favorite station was the stone making…tools for making arrowheads.”
Overall, Weavel said CHC officials hope the event allows students the opportunities to learn authentic Cherokee culture.
“And we hope that children have a better view of what Cherokee life was like in the 1890s and even present day. So we’re hoping to integrate the Cherokee culture into the minds of all of our public, private and home-schooled children,” she said.
GORE, Okla. – At 16, Melvina “Nellie” McGhee Hair traveled with her family from near Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Fort Wayne in Indian Territory, which was near present-day Watts in Adair County. Her journey during in 1838-39 was part of a forced removal of Cherokee people known as the Trail of Tears.
Some of Hair’s descendants and Oklahoma Trail of Tears Association members visited her gravesite in Still Cemetery to dedicate a bronze plaque on her headstone that signifies she survived the removal.
Called Nellie, she was born in the Cherokee Nation East circa 1822. Her father was a white man named John McGhee. Her mother was a half-blooded Cherokee named Elizabeth Ratley, who later married William Robertson. Nellie was probably raised on the Long Savannah Creek, northeast of present-day Chattanooga. On Oct. 1, 1838, she married James Hair.
Family stories relate that during the roundups prior to removal, Nellie’s mother gave birth to her last child, Nancy, but was too weak to cross a stream and was stabbed to death by soldiers. Thus Nellie and James took charge of the remaining children of Elizabeth Ratley – Watie Robertson, Lucinda Robertson, Arch Ratley, Betsy Ratley and Nancy Robertson – when they left in the Bushyhead detachment in October 1838.
The detachment arrived at Fort Wayne in February 1839. Nellie and James settled in the Goingsnake District and had eight children – Samuel Hair, John Hair, Elizabeth Hair Bean, Margaret Hair Deerinwater, James Hair, Araminta Cynthia Hair Ross, Jesse Hair and Solomon Hair. James Hair Sr. was elected to the Cherokee Council in 1853 and 1859 and enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War. He died in Tahlequah in 1863 and is buried at the Fort Gibson National Cemetery. After the war, Nellie and her family moved near Campbell in the Illinois District, near present-day Gore, where she died on Oct. 15, 1882. She was buried in Still Cemetery.
National TOTA President Jack Baker said its Oklahoma chapter focuses on marking the graves of those who came on the Trail of Tears. The chapter made that its focus, he said, because there are no Trail of Tears trails to mark in Oklahoma because the trail ended here. Chapters in eight other states mark the trails used by the Cherokee and other tribes to reach Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma.
Baker said the Oklahoma chapter honors survivors’ graves by placing bronze plaques on their headstones to signify that they survived the removal, by bringing the survivors’ families together and making them aware that the removals were not just something in history books and by leaving behind a marker to show future generations that their family members survived the removals.
“This was a person (Nellie) who actually endured the removal on the Trail of Tears,” Baker said.
The plaque reads: “In honor of one who endured the forced removal of the Cherokee in 1838-39. The Trail of Tears Association Oklahoma Chapter.” It also adorns the CN and TOTA seals.
Baker said the CN Registration Department has identified more than 800 people who are descendants of Nellie. Baker said he is descended from her half-sister, Lucinda Robertson, and Melvina’s husband, James Hair.
Nellie’s great-great-great grandson Rev. Kurt Henry, who performed the ceremony’s closing prayer, said he grew up hearing about his Hair family members but never met them because they were all deceased by the time he was born.
Henry said he didn’t realize he had an ancestor who survived the removals until a few months ago when CN Supreme Court Chief Justice and Oklahoma TOTA member Troy Poteete brought a genealogy booklet to Henry and his family.
“We started reading it, and I thought it was very interesting. I had never been into genealogy, but when I was asked to help with the headstone, that’s when it got real and personal. I’m one disease from not being here. That’s when it really got real,” he said. “It just touches me that someone could make that trip when you’re forced to leave and you don’t know where you’re going, and it was my kinfolks. I know where I get some of my strength, and that’s what I understand through this.”
Poteete said the grave markings honor a whole generation of Cherokees who were “victims” of the removals when approximately 4,000 Cherokees died during the roundups, while they were held in concentration camps in 1838 and during the removals over land and water.
“They were absolutely victimized by people’s greed, by people who thought less of the laws and institutions of the United States than the Cherokees did. We put too much stock in the integrity of the United States government at our peril,” he said. “That generation, although they were victimized, they did not pass on to the next generation the mentality of victims. They did not allow themselves to become bitter and resentful people. They rebuilt the Cherokee Nation and they handed it to the next generation intact.”
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On March 17, Cherokee National Treasure Roger Cain gave a presentation in the Osiyo Room about the history of booger masks in Cherokee culture as part of the Cherokee Nation Community and Cultural Outreach’s Lunch & Learn lecture series.
“It’s a passion of mine,” Cain said. “There’s evidence these masks were used in Cherokee culture during ancient times, during the tribes’ historical period and continue to be a part of our ceremonies. My presentation shows the connection between ancient booger masks and Cherokee culture today. These masks are part of our creative process and shouldn’t be forgotten.”
Cain added that booger masks made by Cherokee Immersion Charter School students were on display as part of Cherokee Heritage Center’s “From Talking Leaves to Pixels: The History of the Cherokee Language” exhibit, which was slated to run to April 2.
CN Historical Officer Catherine Foreman Grey, who oversees the Lunch & Learn lectures, explained why Cain was the selected to lecture. “I thought masks and masking was a topic the public have heard little about and Roger was the obvious choice. He was awarded with the (Cherokee) National Treasure medal for his research on booger masks and the traditional way of carving them.”
Gray said family, community obligations and demanding work schedules make it difficult for many people to attend events, especially after work hours. She said Lunch & Learn presentations are a good fit for those looking to expand their knowledge on Cherokee history and culture topics.
She added that her department began using social media to stream the Lunch & Learn lectures. “Many people are unable to travel to Tahlequah and attend the presentations in person. Our goal is to have more content available online so we now live-stream and archive Lunch & Learn presentations on Cherokee Nation’s YouTube channel.”
Lunch & Learn presentations are held at noon on the third Thursday of each month in the Osiyo Training Room at the Tribal Complex. The presentations are free and open to the public. Small lunches and drinks are provided but attendees are invited to bring sack lunches. For more information, call Foreman-Gray at 918-453-5289 or email <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.