Remember the Removal bike rider Tighe Wachacha celebrates on June 20 as he crosses into Oklahoma from Arkansas. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

Cyclists return after retracing Trail of Tears

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians rider Marvel Welch of Cherokee, N.C., center, helps lead the Remember the Removal riders on June 21 into Tahlequah, Okla. At 53, Welch was oldest rider. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX Friends and family greet LaTasha Atcity of Tahlequah on June 21 as she enters the Cherokee Courthouse Square in Tahlequah, Okla., during a welcoming ceremony for the Remember the Removal bike riders who retraced the northern route of the Trail of Tears. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians cyclist Hilary Gallegos, right, rides into the Cherokee Courthouse Square during a welcoming ceremony on June 21 for 22 Cherokee riders who retraced the Trail of Tears on the 175th anniversary of the forced removal. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX Casey Cooper, CEO of the Cherokee Indian Hospital in Cherokee, N.C., speaks on June 21 during a welcoming ceremony about the importance of the Remember the Removal bicycle ride. Cooper, who rode the trek in 2011, commended the Cherokee Nation for organizing the ride. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX A map showing the route of the Remember the Removal bike ride from New Echota, Ga., the old Cherokee Nation capital, to Tahlequah, Okla., the current CN capital. COURTESY PHOTO
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians rider Marvel Welch of Cherokee, N.C., center, helps lead the Remember the Removal riders on June 21 into Tahlequah, Okla. At 53, Welch was oldest rider. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Assistant Editor – @cp_wchavez
06/25/2013 08:36 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Marvel Welch, 53, the oldest of the 2013 Remember the Removal bicycle riders, helped lead the cyclists on June 21 into Tahlequah as they ended their journey to cheers by family and friends.

Welch was one of seven riders from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians who joined 15 riders from the Cherokee Nation. Together, they rode through seven states in three weeks – from New Echota, Ga., to Oklahoma – to commemorate the Trail of Tears. This year marks the 175th anniversary of the beginning of the forced removal that began in May 1838 when Cherokees were captured and moved to Indian Territory.

Welch of Cherokee, N.C., said her Cherokee ancestors remained in their North Carolina homelands after the removal, but dispelled the thought that her ancestors were not affected.

“My grandfather French moved back to North Carolina (after living in Oklahoma) and brought my mother. He traveled back and forth between Tahlequah and Cherokee,” she said. “This journey has been truly amazing with the young spirits that are with me. They’re all younger. I consider them kids. Their energy has kept me going. The land, at the places we have stopped, you can feel our past relations with us.”

Welch said she struggled at times during the journey, once riding up a large hill in Tennessee’s Cumberland Gap. She said she refused to get off of her bike and walk as other riders saw her struggle and came back to encourage her and put their hands on her back without pushing as she made it to the top of the hill.

“It’s just the amazing the energy that was there and the togetherness. I thought I was here to watch over them, and they were watching over me,” she said.

LaTasha Atcity of Tahlequah said she’s known of the ride since 2009 when it was reorganized 25 years after the initial trek. She hesitated turning in an application for four years. After hearing more about the ride she thought it would be an “amazing experience” because she knew little about her Cherokee heritage or the Trail of Tears and saw the ride as a way to learn.

“That’s something that really motivated me – to figure out what my heritage is and (learn about) the ancestors that brought me where I am today,” she said. “When I struggled every single day or when it was hot and I’m hungry, I knew that there was an end. My ancestors didn’t really know what the end was going to be. I’m going to go home, and I’m going to be able to sleep in my bed and see my family. They didn’t have that opportunity.”

EBCI rider Tighe Wachacha helped film a documentary about the ride two years ago. He applied for the ride in 2012 but was not selected. He trained and applied for this year’s ride and made the cut.

“After I watched them complete the ride...I immediately knew I wanted to try it,” he said. “Yeah, my ancestors didn’t have to make the trip, but the people of the Cherokee Nation are cousins or brothers and sisters of mine. I get a sense of how they felt leaving my own family behind because I’ve got two girls and a wife at home who I’ve not seen in three weeks.”

Fellow EBCI rider Hilary Gallegos said the opportunity to take the journey gave her a chance to learn about a time in Cherokee history that her family barely discussed and to form a bond with Oklahoma Cherokees.

“I’m glad I had this opportunity to get to know the facts about the Trail of Tears and what happened and to let everyone know we’re still here,” she said. “I’m just overwhelmed with joy for getting to know those that are in this journey that will forever be my family.”

The riders pedaled 950 miles through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma via a land route known as the Northern Route. Approximately 16,000 Cherokee people were removed from Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina in the spring of 1838. It’s estimated nearly 4,000 of them died during the roundup, incarceration and removal.

EBCI rider Yona Wade said he can imagine how Cherokee people felt leaving their homes as he left his in Cherokee, crossing the Tennessee River at Blythe Ferry and watching the mountains fade into the distance.

“The Trail of Tears is a very important part of Cherokee history as a whole and us as one people, so it was very important for me to participate in this to understand the trials and tribulations our people faced during their journey to Oklahoma,” Wade said.

During the welcoming ceremony, Casey Cooper, CEO of the Cherokee Indian Hospital in Cherokee, spoke about the importance of the ride and encouraged CN leadership to support it. Cooper, who took the ride in 2011, commended the CN for organizing it to instill leadership in youth and teach Cherokee history.

“I am confident that your investment in your future leadership will bring you more yield than anything else you could possibly invest in,” he said. “We hope that you endeavor to keep this alive and that you will continue to put all the resources necessary into ensuring that not only our tribe, the Cherokee Nation, the Eastern Band, UKB (United Keetoowah Band) and tribes across the country never forgets the Trail of Tears, but that our country never forgets the Trail of Tears.”

will-chavez@cherokee.org


918-207-3961

About the Author
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M.

He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life.
He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association.

Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years. He was named interim executive editor on Dec. 8, 2015, by the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.
WILL-CHAVEZ@cherokee.org • 918-207-3961
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M. He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life. He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association. Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years. He was named interim executive editor on Dec. 8, 2015, by the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.

News

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
01/19/2017 10:00 AM
SHAWNEE, Okla. (AP) — A Shawnee casino security guard who shot himself after fatally shooting a fellow officer has died. The Oklahoman reports 28-year-old Justin Wells entered the Grand Casino on Jan. 10, shot and killed 22-year-old Matt Palmer and then turned the gun on himself. An online obituary says Wells was hospitalized and died Wednesday. FBI spokesman Terry Weber says that Wells had not yet been arrested. The agency is handling the case because the casino sits on trust land for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, which also owns and operates the casino. Potawatomi spokeswoman Jennifer Bell says Palmer and Wells were both security guards at the casino, who are not allowed to carry guns. Bell declined to comment on the shooting. The tribe says Palmer was hired in August, and Wells in 2012.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Assistant Editor – @cp_wchavez
01/18/2017 04:15 PM
GROVE, Okla. – Cherokee Nation, Cherokee Nation Businesses and Grove officials on Jan. 17 dedicated the Cherokee Casino Grove with a ribbon-cutting and grand opening. The tribe’s 10th casino is expected to bring 175 jobs to northern Delaware County. Principal Chief Bill John Baker said the jobs means employees would be able to take advantage of health insurance, retirement plans and other benefits to better their lives. He added that the casino would also bring more sales tax revenue to Grove. Most importantly, he said, the casino means there would be more funding to provide health care in northeastern Oklahoma. “You don’t have to drive very far to the south to see where we took $100 million dollars and used part of it to build a new clinic in Jay, Oklahoma. So each and every one of these employees that work here can come to work each and every day knowing they are making the lives of their parents, their grandparents and their children better because these dollars...go back into services, scholarships for our kids, builds houses for our people and provides better health care,” he said. The facility offers 400 electronic games, a full-service bar, live music venue, dance floor and restaurant serving lunch and dinner. The rustic, lodge-style venue features an outdoor patio and event space for hosting private and community events. CNB CEO Shawn Slaton told casino employees the fruits of their labor are helping Cherokee people. Along with thanking CNB employees, he thanked Grove’s leaders, Delaware County officials, CN administration officials, Tribal Councilors, CNB management and the construction company for their efforts in helping finish the casino in eight months. “We always had our eye on Grove. We felt with the lake here and the population that comes in the summer it was a good area to take a look at. We did our market surveys and market studies and that supported the decision to go forward with an investment in a property like this,” Slaton said. “We worked on this quite a while and finally made it happen. We’re happy to be here, and we hope that this is just the start for what we do with this facility.” He acknowledged the casino does have “a lot of competition” from area tribal casinos, but he expects people from Missouri and Arkansas to frequent the casino. “The one thing we have that they (competition) don’t is the lake right next door, and we know Grove blossoms in the spring and summer and the early fall, and we’re positioned well to take part in that,” Slaton said. The Red Stone Construction Company started work on the 39,000-square-foot casino in March and finished in December. The casino is located near Highway 59 and E. 250 Road, northwest of Grove. “It’s beautiful. Eight months ago...we were here looking to the future to see what this was going to be, and now here it is. What’s more exciting is what we have to look forward to in 10 years or five years or three years,” said Grove Mayor Marty Follis. “I can’t wait for them to knock out a wall in this place and start expanding. We’ve got a big future ahead of us.” Follis said the casino coupled with the popular 64-mile long Grand Lake o' the Cherokees about 200 yards from the casino should be a winning combination. “It’s a great advantage that we have. We are super excited. It’s a great partnership between the city and the Cherokee Nation,” Follis said. Based on what happened in Rogers County when the tribe expanded the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, the intersection of Hwy. 59 and E. 250 Road in Grove is bound to see tremendous growth, Tribal Councilor Harley Buzzard said. Buzzard, whose district includes Grove, said he is glad casino profits would go toward health care and other services and that the facility created jobs. “We just recently opened a clinic in Jay (about 10 miles south of Grove), which brought over 100 jobs to Jay, so Delaware County is on the move,” he said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/18/2017 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – More than 30 members of “The Association of Mary,” a Brazilian Christian organization, visited the Cherokee Nation on Jan. 3 to offer prayers for unity and peace in 2017. The group held a cultural and informational exchange with tribal officials. A representative from the association said prayers are offered daily for Indigenous populations in North and South America. Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. addressed the group and thanked them for traveling to learn firsthand about issues facing tribal citizens in America, including the protection of natural resources. “Now more than ever we should embrace an opportunity to bond with people of goodwill all over the world, people who are praying for our wellness and success,” Hoskin said. “They traveled thousands of miles to learn more about Indian issues, history and spirituality. Seeing this global support reinforces just how important and powerful unity can be.”
BY TRAVIS SNELL
Assistant Editor – @cp_tsnell
01/18/2017 01:15 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY – On Jan. 17, Cherokee Nation citizen and Dist. 86 Rep. Will Fourkiller refused to appear before the House of Representative’s committee that is investigating him and another state representative for sexual harassment claims. The Stilwell native said he would only speak to the Special Investigation Committee if the proceeding was open to the public. According to reports, the committee has been hearing from witnesses in only closed sessions. “Though uncertain of the precise allegation, I am certain I have nothing to hide,” Fourkiller told Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Wanette, in a letter. Cockroft chairs the committee. “A confidential, closed-door proceeding does not provide the equitable forum to repair my character and reputation.” Fourkiller is under investigation for a sexual complaint lodged against him in April 2015 by a female high school page. “That was the extent of what I was told,” Fourkiller said on Jan. 17 of his 2015 meeting with a House attorney and an employee of the House chief clerk. “The page was not identified and I did not inquire. I denied anything improper but immediately shied away from my normal interaction and role with the page program for that week out of an abundance of caution.” According to the program, high schools students from the state server as pages for a week during regular legislative sessions and do interact with legislators. Fourkiller on Jan. 11 said he was made aware in 2015 that a page had indicated he had said something that made her uncomfortable and he had apologized. “I do not know what I did or said, but whatever it was I certainly didn’t mean to do it, and I apologized,” he said. He added that the 2015 incident is the only one that he was made aware of by House staff. The House has declined to release the complaint, citing personnel reasons. Cockroft on Jan. 17 defended the investigation and said making the committee meetings public would discourage wronged employees from coming forward. “The sole reason for holding these meetings in private is to protect the confidential information of victims and unelected witnesses — not to protect lawmakers,” he said. “In order to have a workplace where employees feel protected and valued, it is vital that we guard the privacy of those who make claims of harassment and discrimination.” Cockroft said the committee would make its findings public and that it could recommend the House take disciplinary action against a member, including up to expulsion. According to reports six Republicans and three Democrats comprise the committee. However, Democrats – Rep. David Perryman, Rep. Steve Kouplen and Rep. Meloyde Blancett – have refused to be involved because of the committee’s secrecy rules. The committee was formed in response to public outrage over a settlement paid to a fired legislative assistant who had accused Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa, of sexual harassment. The former assistant, Hollie Anne Bishop, complained the House fired her in November 2015 in retaliation for reporting Kirby had sexually harassed her. Former House Speaker Jeff Hickman approved the $44,500 settlement of her wrongful termination claim shortly before he left office. Officials said there was no financial settlement in the complaint against Fourkiller. Fourkiller said he and his family were leaning on God through the ordeal. “We have not lost faith. In fact, it is growing stronger. We know that God is good and at the end of all this there is something great waiting for us.” Fourkiller was first elected to the Dist. 86 seat in 2011. He was re-elected in 2013 and 2015. He also ran for principal chief of the CN in 2015, finishing third at 10.58 percent with 2,040 votes.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
01/16/2017 10:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Election Commission continues to prepare for the 2017 Tribal Council elections with less than a month before people begin filing for candidacy. At the commission’s Jan. 10 meeting, records showed that 40 people had picked up or requested candidate packets from the commission. According to records, three people who picked up packets but do not intend to file are Lisa Trice, who got a packet for education purposes; Commissioner Martha Calico, who got one for reference; and Cherokee Phoenix Senior Reporter Jami Murphy, who got a packet for the news organization. The candidacy filing period is scheduled for Feb. 6-9. At the Jan. 10 meeting, EC Administrator Brooke Tillison reported that there were 66,433 CN citizens registered to vote, which is more than 200 less than the previous month after removing voters who had died but were still registered. Also during the meeting, Commissioner Carolyn Allen asked to be recognized and requested to speak on her own behalf. “There were some comments that were made last month in the December meeting that I consider to be a direct attack on my character. And I thought long and hard about how to address this issue, but I have chosen and I’m going to take the high road on this issue,” Allen said. At the December meeting, Commissioner Teresa Hart read a statement regarding her motion to accept new resumes for the fifth commissioner’s spot that is in holdover after the expiration of Allen’s term. At that meeting, Hart said “we need to vote whether to cast a vote to keep seat No. 5 as is or move to open it up for replacement.” She also read a statement regarding Allen and her actions while on the commission. <a href="http://cnmediav1.cherokee.org/vod/Phoenix/News/2017/vid_170111_CNECregMtg_rjg_wc.mp4" target="_blank">Click here to watch</a>the January meeting <a href="http://cnmediav1.cherokee.org/vod/Phoenix/News/2016/vid_161213_CNECregularMeeting_rjg_wc.mp4" target="_blank">Click here to watch</a>the December meeting.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
01/15/2017 10:00 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma's tax on gasoline and diesel, untouched since 1987 and among the lowest in the nation, is becoming a tempting target for state lawmakers desperate for revenue amid a third straight year of budget declines. Several Republican legislators said last week they expect proposals will be unveiled once the session begins in February to increase the state's gasoline and diesel taxes of 17 cents and 14 cents, respectively. "I would not be surprised to see a fuel tax, tobacco tax or a tax on services being filed just so there is a vehicle out there, a placeholder for that discussion," said new House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka. "But actually getting that accomplished is a totally separate issue." Oklahoma ranks 49th among the 50 states for its tax on diesel and 48th for its tax on gasoline, according to a November report from the American Petroleum Institute. During last year's session, as lawmakers looked to close a $1.3 billion hole in the budget, Rep. Earl Sears introduced a bill to increase the tax by 3 cents per gallon. The measure would have generated about $41 million annually, according to a fiscal analysis of the bill by House researchers, but it failed on a 14-9 vote against it. "It was an election year," said Sears, R-Bartlesville. "We had members who were very reluctant to raise taxes." This year, lawmakers are again facing another massive budget hole of about $870 million, or 12 percent of state spending, and many of the one-time sources of revenue that the Legislature tapped last year to balance the budget are no longer available. While there is a lot of chatter this year among Republican leaders about the prospect of raising revenue through increased taxes, it's unclear how much political will there is to do so. The approval of any tax increase requires a three-fourths vote in the House and Senate, and nearly a third of the members in each chamber are brand-new, and many of them campaigned on a platform of lower taxes. "That's a very high threshold," McCall said, noting a 76-vote requirement in the House. "The size of our caucus (75 members) ... we don't even have 76 members if you could get them all together. And there's going to be a division in the caucus on that issue. While McCall said he expects to have a good working relationship with House Democratic Leader Rep. Scott Inman, the minority party likely won't be too eager to vote for tax increases that disproportionately affect the middle-class and working poor. Democrats in both chambers have been particularly vocal about Republicans' recently enacted tax cuts on both income and oil and gas production, both of which favor high-income earners. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, said that while he's open to looking at a fuel tax increase, it likely will generate a diminishing amount of revenue because of greater fuel efficiency and an increase in electric vehicles. Dunnington said it makes more sense to look at increasing income taxes for the wealthiest Oklahomans. "Are we thinking ahead far enough about technology and are we appropriately assessing taxation that is going to work for our future?" Dunnington said. "Or are we just being short-sighted and scrambling because we're broke and making bad decisions."