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
Senior Reporter
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.
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.

News

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
12/21/2014 04:00 PM
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) – U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar’s reference to American Indians as “wards of the federal government” has struck a harsh chord with tribal members and legal experts in the days following a discussion about a controversial Arizona land deal that would make way for the country’s largest copper mine. The Arizona Republican was responding to concerns from Phil Stago of the White Mountain Apache Tribe when he made the comment that stunned people at the round-table talk. Stago said the phrase is antiquated and ignores advances made in tribes managing their own affairs and seeking equal representation when it comes to projects proposed on land they consider sacred. “He kind of revealed the truth - the true deep feeling of the federal government: `Tribes, you can call yourselves sovereign nations, but when it comes down to the final test, you’re not really sovereign because we still have plenary authority over you,’” Stago told The Associated Press. Gosar spokesman Steven Smith said that wasn’t the intent of the congressman, whose constituents in the 4th Congressional District include Apache tribes. He didn’t respond to requests to elaborate further. “If that’s what he got out of that, I think it’s misconstrued,” Smith said. “If you look at the work the congressman has done, that’s far from the truth.” Smith said Gosar has been an advocate for strengthening the relationship between tribes and the federal government. He pointed to legislation he sponsored this year that would do so. Gosar held the discussion Friday in Flagstaff with Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who grew up with Stago on Arizona’s Fort Apache Reservation. Dozens of people attended the meeting to discuss land, mining and forest issues with the representatives. One topic they addressed was a proposal to swap 2,400 acres of southeastern Arizona’s Tonto National Forest for about 5,300 acres of environmentally sensitive land throughout the state controlled by a subsidiary of global mining giant Rio Tinto. Stago said the proposal was disrespectful to tribal sovereignty. Gosar said: “You’re still wards of the federal government,” according to the Arizona Daily Sun. While former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall described tribes’ relationship with the federal government as that of a ward to its guardian in the 1830s, that characterization has long been irrelevant, experts in federal Indian law said. Tribal members once seen as incompetent in the Supreme Court’s eyes became U.S. citizens in 1924, and the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 pushed the concept of tribal sovereignty and self-determination, said Troy Eid, a Republican and former U.S. attorney in Colorado. Congress maintains control over Indian affairs. However, the Interior Department is moving away from archaic paternalism when it comes to relationships with tribes, a spokeswoman said. The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ website notes the federal government is a trustee of Indian property - not the guardian of all American Indians and Alaska Natives. Eid said the language that defines core concepts of Indian law is old and often ethnically offensive. “Wards of the federal government” is no different, he said. “That’s just not appropriate,” Eid said. “In the heated context of what this represents, it’s especially inappropriate to be resorting to what amounts to race baiting.” The trend has been for tribes to take more control over their affairs while holding the federal government to promises generally born out of treaties. In exchange for tribal land, the government promised things like health care, education and social services in perpetuity for members of federally recognized tribes. Some tribes are taking advantage of federal laws that allow them to prosecute felony crimes and assert jurisdiction over non-Natives in limited cases of domestic violence. They also have the authority to approve trust land leases directly, rather than wait for BIA approval. Sam Deloria, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who served for 35 years as director of the American Indian Law Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said tribes welcome discussion about policy matters. But when someone makes a comment like Gosar’s, “it doesn’t contribute much to the debate,” he said.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
12/21/2014 12:00 PM
CASPER, Wyo. (AP) – The Northern Arapaho tribe has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that proposed Internal Revenue Service rules could cause Native Americans to pay higher insurance premiums or lose health care benefits. Tribal leaders said the recently proposed IRS interpretation of the large-employer mandate would unlawfully exempt Native Americans working for the tribe from receiving tax credits and cost-sharing benefits specifically outlined by new federal health laws. Northern Arapaho Business Council members said the IRS rule would eliminate tribal tax credits for health care benefits and make those earning more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level exempt from cost-sharing provisions that currently cover Native American insurance premiums. “The Northern Arapaho Business Council fully supports what Congress and the president have accomplished with the Affordable Care Act,” said Northern Arapaho Councilman Darrell O’Neal, “but the folks in the agencies have taken a wrong turn in implementing it.” The Northern Arapaho Tribe has about 10,000 enrolled citizens and shares a large reservation in Wyoming, southeast of Grand Teton National Park. It employs more than 600 people. The tribe insures its workers with plans from the federal health insurance marketplace and provides more than 80 percent of premium costs, the Casper Star-Tribune reported. Under the rule, tribal governments and agencies are considered large employers. Those Native Americans employed by the tribes would be subject to provisions of the large-employer mandate. More than 62 percent of Northern Arapaho members live below the poverty line. If approved, the rule would take effect Jan. 1. The rule-making is on hold, awaiting results of the case, filed in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming. The tribe said Congress did not intend the health care legislation to block Native Americans’ benefits and that the IRS rulemaking exposes a rift between legislation and the executive branch. The IRS referred calls to the Department of Justice, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
12/20/2014 04:00 PM
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) – California’s Pala Indians have launched their Internet gambling site in New Jersey following a test period in November, becoming the first tribe to do so in the state. The Pala Band of Mission Indians received permission from New Jersey gambling regulators for a full launch of the website in a partnership with Atlantic City’s Borgata. PalaCasino.com started taking bets on Nov. 29, Jim Ryan, CEO of Pala Interactive, the tribe’s Internet gambling arm, said. “We had a solid weekend and we have yet to start marketing,” he told The Associated Press. “We believe we are breaking into the New Jersey market at the perfect time.” The tribe’s entry into New Jersey’s online market comes at the anniversary of Internet gambling, which has not produced nearly the amount of revenue state officials had hoped. When it began on Nov. 25, 2013, New Jersey officials were projecting a $1 billion a year industry in its first year. To date, only about one-tenth of that, or $111 million, has been won online by the casinos. The tribe, which runs the Pala Casino and Spa in San Diego County, California, is using one of the Borgata’s online gambling licenses. Like other New Jersey Internet gambling providers, it can only take bets from customers within New Jersey’s borders. It plans to launch an online poker site in the first quarter of 2015. The site’s full debut came days after New Jersey gambling regulators said they had found no evidence Ryan was involved in a 2006 cheating scandal at his previous employer. The report determined the UltimateBet scandal occurred while Ryan was head of Excapsa Software. That firm’s software was used to cheat players by revealing their hidden cards to other users, resulting in losses of nearly $20 million to players. But the software was developed by a different company that predated Ryan’s employment at Excapsa, according to the report. The money was ultimately refunded. The Pala site uses a different platform, Ryan said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
12/20/2014 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Candidates running for office in the 2015 Cherokee Nation General Election can pick up their election packets beginning on Jan. 5 at the Election Services Office. According to an Election Commission press release, the filing period for candidates will begin on March 2, and will continue until 5 p.m. on March 5. If any candidate wishes to withdraw their candidacy he or she may do so 10 days following the close of the filing period, the release states. Seats open are for principal chief, deputy chief as well as Tribal Council districts 1, 3, 6, 8, 12, 13, 14 and one At-Large. Registered voters residing outside the CN jurisdiction who wish to vote by absentee ballot may fill out an absentee ballot request to be processed from Feb. 2 to May 8, the release states. Absentee ballot requests will be available at the Election Services Office and online at <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/elections" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org/elections</a>. Absentee ballots will be mailed out on May 26-27 by the Election Commission. Voter registration will close March 31. To print a voter registration form online visit <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/elections" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org/elections</a> or pick up one in person at the Election Services Office. Citizens can request to have one sent by email or fax. Also, voters with address changes, name changes or any changed information will need to submit a new voter registration application, according to the release. The Election Services Office is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. It’s located at 22116 S. Bald Hill Road. For more information call 918-458-5899.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
12/19/2014 02:42 PM
EUCHA, Okla. – Eucha residents gathered on the evening of Dec. 13 to celebrate the opening of the new Eucha Community Center. The center’s opening was five years in the making after setbacks prevented residents from completing the 50-foot-by-75-foot building, which will be used by the Eucha Indian Organization and community. “We had a lot of problems. The roof blew off twice while we were trying to build it. Some of the guys got dissatisfied and they quit, but some of them stayed on. And then about three months ago I started coming up here and working on the inside of it,” community organizer Tad Dunham said. “We finally got it finished. Actually we got it finished yesterday (Dec. 12).” The center’s opening coincided with the annual Eucha Fire Department Christmas dinner. The fire department and its firefighters are a centerpiece for the community located about four miles west of Jay in Delaware County and about two miles north of Lake Eucha. Dunham said when the lake was built in 1952 the town was moved to its present location. In years past, the fire department, which is next door to the community building, backed its trucks out of the fire station to make room for events. “We always worried about them freezing this time of year because some of the water lines are only an eighth of an inch that go to the gauges and they freeze really quickly,” Dunham said. “Now we don’t have to pull them out. We can use this building (community center), and it just makes everything greater. Plus we have more room in here.” Cullus Buck, EIO chairman and EFD assistant chief, said the center would “mean a lot” because it gives residents a place to meet without using the fire station. “We opened up the fire department many times for family reunions and different things, and now this will take care of that, and we won’t have to worry about our trucks freezing,” Buck said. He said he wants to use the center to keep the area’s Cherokee heritage alive by having craftspeople and others visit to share their knowledge. “I’m going to try to get some beading classes in. My wife, she knows how to (do) that and some basket weaving. We had a guy come up and said he would teach knife (making), and I’ve got a couple of people who are interested in teaching the Cherokee language,” Buck said. He said he appreciates any help the Cherokee Nation could provide in preserving Cherokee heritage in Eucha but believes there are residents qualified to teach the Cherokee language and arts and crafts. The CN’s Community Work Program provided $116,000 to build the center, and the nearby Seneca-Cayuga Tribe in Grove and the Eastern Shawnee Tribe in Wyandotte also provided assistance. The Eastern Shawnee donated the building’s appliances, and the Seneca-Cayuga helped fund the Christmas dinner. “It wasn’t just the Cherokee Nation. Different tribes helped pitch in to get it (community center) done,” Buck said. “There was one point I wanted to give up. We got it all ready to go, had all the trusses up, and they all fell in because we had a tornado right down the road.” Dunham said he believes the building will begin an era in the community because people now have a gathering place for reunions, parties, weddings and funerals. “It’s going to open up the whole area for the community, not just the Eucha community but the surrounding area. It will be a general purpose building for the whole community,” he said. “I want to thank the Cherokee Nation not only for this building, but everything else they do for the community and all the Cherokee people – all the health care they provide, the roads they build – if you look around you can see their mark on about everything in the area, so we really appreciate the Cherokee Nation.”
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
12/19/2014 12:47 PM
TULSA, Okla. (AP) – The Cherokee Nation has opened a tag office in Tulsa as it makes its license plates available to its citizens across Oklahoma. Principal Chief Bill John Baker says demand is up for Cherokee Nation license plates, so it was necessary to open a Tulsa office so it can deliver tags in a timely manner. The tag office opened Thursday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. It joins five others - at Adair, Collinsville, Jay, Sallisaw and Tahlequah. The new office is in the Cherokee Nation Welcome Center off U.S. 412. In the last fiscal year, the Cherokee Nation generated $11 million in motor vehicle tag revenue, up $2 million from the earlier year. Funds are used for public schools, road and bridge improvement projects, and law enforcement.