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
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


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BY JAMI MURPHY
09/02/2014 04:19 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Businesses officials held a press conference on Sept. 2 at Cherokee Springs Grill announcing specifics about plans to build Cherokee Springs Plaza, a travel destination that will include venues for dining, shopping and gaming. An artist’s rendering shows the complex includes retail spaces, restaurant sites, auto sales lots, office spaces, a convention center, two hotels and a casino near the Cherokee Springs Golf Course on vacant land the tribe owns along Highway 62. Principal Chief Bill John Baker said purchasing the golf course property and the vacant land in 2012 was a business decision of CNB “knowing that anytime they do anything it’s first class.” “It was the largest contiguous piece of property left in the capitol of the Cherokee Nation, and they’ve been on the drawing board for almost a year now with some of the best land developers in the country coming up with their plan to make this a showpiece in not only all of Indian Country, but I think it’s going to be a showplace for Oklahoma,” Baker said. The approximate 150 acres will bring more traffic to Tahlequah and more attention to the CN, he said. “Just be an awesome, awesome development for this part of Oklahoma,” Baker added. CNB Executive Vice President Chuck Garrett said CNB plans to create “a place where people want to come.” “No longer will they need to go to Tulsa or Muskogee,” he said on Sept. 2. When officials unveiled the project, they said there would be spots for approximately six national restaurants. “I don’t know anybody in this part of the country that hasn’t said ‘I wish we had this’ or ‘I wished we had that.’ People don’t realize the dollars that go to Muskogee or go to Tulsa to just go out to dinner, and we think we can reverse that to where folks from Muskogee are going to be coming this way,” Baker said. “Folks from Tulsa, they can play golf. They eat at our restaurants and eventually stay at our hotel. It’s just going to be a destination of a mixture of fine dining, shopping, a casino resort, golfing. It’s going to tie everything together here at the Cherokee Nation.” Baker said the space would also include a convention center so people who often use convention centers at hotels in the Tulsa area can stay closer to home. He added that Garrett had much to do with what the CN envisioned for the property and was the “perfect fit to carry the ball.” Garrett said he’s looking forward to helping execute Baker’s vision for the property. “As chief said, I think that for the first time the citizens of Tahlequah and Cherokee County are going to have the entertainment and amenities that they deserve,” he said. “We also hope to be providing a venue for entertainment and other community activities within a conference center that will be attached to a hotel.” Officials said the venture would create hundreds of jobs for the area and would be completely finished in five to seven years. CNB officials said the property’s development would occur in the three phases. [BLOCKQUOTE]The first phase is establishing the infrastructure that creates access and provides the necessary utilities and the “civil engineering” portion of the project that will consist of road construction and pad sites where potential businesses will be developed. Phase 2 is the construction of a new Cherokee Casino Tahlequah that will include a resort hotel, convention center and new golf clubhouse. The third phase is the creation of a retail strip, centering along Grand Boulevard, which will enhance the pedestrian and shopper experience. Overall, it is anticipated 1.3 million square feet of mixed-use space will be developed at an estimated cost of $170 million. “The creation of a new casino resort continues our efforts to be the industry leader in entertainment for northeast Oklahoma,” CNB CEO Shawn Slaton said. “This development will also create new shopping and dining opportunities not currently found in the Tahlequah market, which bolsters the local economy. The city has been very supportive, and we’re grateful for the confidence they have in us to make this happen.” Phase 1 is underway and is expected to be complete in 12 to 18 months. But citizens will see work on the property within the next month, Garrett said. Garrett added that no land will be sold to retailers or restaurant chains, but they will plan to off lease arrangements for those interested in bring in a business. Once everything is complete, Baker said, the CN would continue with its plan to move the Cherokee Nation Immersion Charter School into what will be the former Cherokee Casino Tahlequah, located west of Sequoyah Schools along Hwy 62. “We designed it that way when we built it…so we won’t have two casinos. But when we build the one there (behind Cherokee Springs Golf Course), the one out here (Hwy 62) will become the immersion school,” Baker said. At this time, no plans need CNB board approval. Everything has been in a discussion phase, Garrett said. All funding for this project will come through the CNB board in phases as building begins to take place. Currently, the acreage is not in trust status, but once CNB has determined the size of the hotel and casino they will section off that part of the land and ask the Bureau of Indian Affairs to place it into trust. Check back with the Cherokee Phoenix for updates.
BY JAMI MURPHY
08/30/2014 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During the Cherokee National Holiday weekend, Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Businesses officials unveiled plans to build the Cherokee Springs Plaza, a travel destination that will include venues for dining, shopping and gaming. An artist’s rendering shows the complex including retail spaces, restaurant sites, auto sales lots, office spaces, a convention center, two hotels and a casino. Principal Chief Bill John Baker said purchasing the former Cherry Springs Golf Course property and the vacant land parallel to Highway 62 was a business decision of CNB “knowing that anytime they do anything it’s first class.” “It was the largest contiguous piece of property left in the capitol of the Cherokee Nation, and they’ve been on the drawing board for almost a year now with some of the best land developers in the country coming up with their plan to make this a showpiece in not only all of Indian Country, but I think it’s going to be a showplace for Oklahoma,” Baker said. The approximate 150 acres will bring more traffic to Tahlequah and more attention to the CN, he said. “Just be an awesome, awesome development for this part of Oklahoma,” Baker added. When officials unveiled the project, they said there would be spots for approximately six national restaurants. “I don’t know anybody in this part of the country that hasn’t said ‘I wish we had this’ or ‘I wished we had that.’ People don’t realize the dollars that go to Muskogee or go to Tulsa to just go out to dinner, and we think we can reverse that to where folks from Muskogee are going to be coming this way,” Baker said. “Folks from Tulsa, they can play golf. They eat at our restaurants and eventually stay at our hotel. It’s just going to be a destination of a mixture of fine dining, shopping, a casino resort, golfing. It’s going to tie everything together here at the Cherokee Nation.” Baker said the space would also include a convention center so people who often use convention centers at hotels in the Tulsa area can stay closer to home. He added that CNB Executive Vice President Chuck Garrett had much to do with what the CN envisioned for the property and was the “perfect fit to carry the ball.” Garrett said he’s looking forward to helping execute Baker’s vision for the property. “As chief said, I think that for the first time the citizens of Tahlequah and Cherokee County are going to have the entertainment and amenities that they deserve. They’re no longer going to have to travel to Tulsa, Muskogee or other larger cities outside of the area to enjoy a restaurant or some shopping opportunities that they’ve previously had to travel for,” he said. “We also hope to be providing a venue for entertainment and other community activities within a conference center that will be attached to a hotel.” The project will be completed in three phases, Garrett said. Phase 1 will include the “civil engineering” portion of the project that will consist of road construction and pad sites where potential businesses will be developed. “So our initial efforts will be focused on the engineering and road construction necessary for the development including water, sewer and those sorts of things,” Garrett said. The first thing citizens will see, he said, will be pad sites along the highway that will be the future homes of restaurants. Phase 1 is underway and is expected to be complete in 12 to 18 months. But citizens will see work on the property within the next month, Garrett said. CN Communications officials said the project’s total cost is about $170 million and will encompass approximately 1 million square feet. Officials also said it should be complete in 24 to 48 months. Once everything is complete, Baker said, the CN would continue with its plan to move the Cherokee Nation Immersion Charter School into what will be the former Cherokee Casino Tahlequah, located west of Sequoyah Schools along Hwy 62. “We designed it that way when we built it…so we won’t have two casinos. But when we build the one there (behind Cherokee Springs Golf Course), the one out here (Hwy 62) will become the immersion school,” Baker said. Check back with the Cherokee Phoenix for updates as this story develops.
BY STAFF REPORTS
08/29/2014 02:12 PM
In this month's issue: • Hard Rock Cherokee Tower under revamp • Cherokee Phoenix wins awards at NAJA conference • Tribe requests IHS help to build Tahlequah hospital • Watt strives to enlighten others with his artwork ...and much more. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2014/8/8483_2014-09-01.pdf" target="_blank">Click here</a> to read this month's issue.
BY BRYAN POLLARD
08/29/2014 10:23 AM
The Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board will be meeting via conference call at 9 a.m. CDT, September 10, 2014. To attend, please use the conference call information listed below. The meeting agenda is <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2014/8/8480_140910_EB_Agenda.pdf" target="_blank">here</a>. Dial-in: 866-210-1669 Entry code: 4331082
BY JOSH NEWTON
08/29/2014 08:31 AM
Tahlequah Daily Press TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Authorities with the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service and Ontario Provincial Police in Canada say that until last month, a man living in Tahlequah had been presumed dead as a result of a 1977 barn fire. “The Cherokee Nation Marshal Service, acting on a tip, did locate Ronald Stan alive and living in Tahlequah on Aug. 5,” said Amanda Clinton, the Cherokee Nation communications director. She said the tribe would make no other comment about the discovery. Authorities in Canada say Stan, who has been living in Tahlequah under the alias of Jeff Walton, disappeared from his home in Ontario nearly 37 years ago. According to media reports out of Canada, Stan lived in the former Township of East Williams in Middlesex County, but was reported missing when a barn caught fire on Sept. 29, 1977. Witnesses reportedly saw Stan near the barn before it broke out into a blaze. Remnants of a body were never found, but in 1986, Stan was declared legally dead in Canada. He had reportedly left behind a wife and children there. But authorities in Canada say a recent audit of Stan’s disappearance somehow connected the supposedly missing person to a man living near Tahlequah, 69-year-old Jeff Walton. According to some media reports, police used Facebook connections to pinpoint Walton in Cherokee County. Authorities have not said what Stan’s motives might have been for disappearing 37 years ago, nor whether the barn fire thought to have taken his life was or is now considered to have been suspicious. But Canadian officials have suggested Stan faces no criminal charges there. Stan’s 35-year-old son, Jeff Walton Jr., told the Toronto Star that his family is “still trying to put all the puzzle pieces together.” He said family members from Stan’s U.S. life learned of the former life last month. Stan reportedly has grandchildren in the U.S. as well. On April 23, 2000, Stan, under the name of Walton, married Cherokee County resident Debra E. Proctor in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Court records show Proctor and Stan divorced earlier this month – according to Walton Jr., because of the revelation of his father’s secret Canadian past. In Proctor’s petition for divorce, she cites “incompatibility” between herself and Stan. Walton Jr. told the Toronto Star that his father now suffers from vascular dementia and heart disease, and was in a nursing home when authorities began to uncover Stan’s past. According to court documents, Stan has also gone by the name of Jeff Winton, and reportedly spent some time in Louisiana after leaving Canada. “It’s been tough on me, but he’s still my father,” Walton Jr. told the Toronto Star. “It doesn’t change the man I knew for 35 years. Hopefully one day, he can sit down and write a book and remember all the stuff he’s been through in his life. It’d be a damn good book, I’ll tell you that, just from what I’ve heard.” Canadian media also reported that the Ontario Provincial Police have closed their case. – REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION
BY STAFF REPORTS
08/28/2014 01:21 PM
CLAREMORE, Okla. – The stables are filling up as quarter horse racing returns to Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs on Sept. 6 for a fifth consecutive year. The schedule features 28 days of American Quarter Horse Association, Appaloosa and Paint races through Nov. 8. Races begin at noon every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Each day features 12 races. Popularity of the track’s quarter horse racing meet continues to draw some of the most talented people in the sport to WRD. “We are very excited that Eddie Willis and Toby Keeton, the top two trainers in earnings in the United States, will be returning with full stables to compete at this year’s meet,” Jesse Ullery, WRD racing secretary and simulcast manager, said. The 2014 WRD racing schedule features 34 stakes races. Top 10 qualifiers from the non-pari-mutuel Kansas Jackpot Trials and Black Gold Division 350 Futurity Trials previously held on Aug. 23 will be part of the opening race cards for the finals on Sept. 9. Both finals include added money, with the Black Gold Division 350 Futurity Finals guaranteeing $150,000, while $25,000 is promised for the Kansas Jackpot Futurity Finals. Race fans visiting on Sept. 28 will witness the $15,000 added AQHA Zoetis Starter Allowance Challenge, the $27,500 guaranteed AQHA John Deer Juvenile Challenge Finals, the $30,000 added AQHA Red Cell Distance Challenge Finals and the AQHA Adequan Derby Challenge Finals, worth an estimated $32,500. The 400-yard Black Gold Division 400 Futurity Finals for 2-year-olds on Oct. 5 also promises to be an exciting event, adding $150,000 to the pot with $7,500 going to stallion awards. “We have a very competitive stakes program this year for all ages of horses. There is a lot to see,” Ullery said. The $294,625 Black Gold Futurity Championship highlights the meet on Nov. 8. The finale on Nov. 8 also includes the $25,000 Oklahoma Horsemen’s Association Mystery Derby Finals and the Oklahoma Horsemen’s Association Mystery Futurity Finals Grade II, worth $75,000. Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs is located 3 miles east of Claremore on Highway 20. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.cherokeecasino.com" target="_blank">www.cherokeecasino.com</a> and click on the Will Rogers Downs tab or call (918) 283-8800.