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 – @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.

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BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
05/30/2016 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Veterans, their families and Cherokee Nation leaders gathered on May 27 in front of the Cherokee Warrior Memorial on the W.W. Keeler Complex to commemorate Memorial Day ahead of the official holiday on May 30. The Cherokee Nation Color Guard and veterans from various eras presented the CN and American flags and flags from this country’s military branches to kick off the annual ceremony. Cherokee veteran Larry T. Smith, 48, of Muskogee, served 17 years in the Air Force and the Oklahoma Air National Guard from 1989 to 2005. He said he attended to honor service people who paid “the ultimate price” in defending this country and its freedoms. He said he has not lost a family member who served during time of war, but two uncles were wounded – one in the Korean War and one in Vietnam. His said his brother also served with the 82nd Airborne. The fact that he served his country as a CN citizen means a lot to him, Smith said, because he is part of a tradition of Native Americans serving their country in large numbers. “Native Americans have a long history of serving the United States, even in the military. I think per capita of any group in the country Native Americans have the highest percentage of participation in the military, and that means a lot to me,” he said. The Cherokee National Youth Choir performed during the ceremony and Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden placed wreaths at the foot of the memorial. James Powell, 88, of Tahlequah, served in the South Pacific with the Navy from 1945-47 aboard the USS Whiteside, an Andromeda-class attack cargo ship. The Cherokee veteran said he wanted to be at the ceremony to honor the country’s war dead. “I wouldn’t miss it for nothing,” he said. “It’s a great thing to honor all veterans that give their all, especially the ones who are still in. It’s a great thing.” Cherokee veteran Thomas Blair, 60 of Woodall, served in the Army for seven years with the 1st Cavalry Division, the 25th Infantry Division and the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea. He said Memorial Day reminds him of his family members who are buried in the Fort Gibson National Cemetery about 20 miles southwest of Tahlequah. “My father served 23 years, and I got uncles and I got a son that served that’s buried over there,” he said. “I remember all the guys that I served with in my time of service. It means a lot to me.” From 2003-11 4,488 service people died in missions in Iraq, and from 2001 to present 2,229 service people have died in Afghanistan. Those numbers are added to the 58,209 who died in Vietnam; 36,516 during the Korean Conflict; 405,399 during World War II; and 116,516 during World War I. And approximately 750,000 Union and Confederate soldiers and other participants died during the Civil War. According to the website usmemorialday.org, Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States and was borne out of the Civil War and a desire to honor this country’s military dead. The first state to recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890, it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war, including Indian wars.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
05/27/2016 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – From May 24-26, Sequoyah basketball coach Jay Herrin hosted a boys basketball camp to introduce and maintain basketball fundamentals for children in grades first through ninth. “We work on the fundamental skills – dribbling and basket shooting. Got a lot of different-aged groups and got a lot of different-ability groups. But we try to tailor it to the kids’ needs whether a beginning player or a more advanced player,” he said. Herrin, a Cherokee Nation citizen, said the three-day camp saw approximately 90 children attend. “What’s good is to get these guys out doing something. School is out now, and trying to keep them active is one thing,” he said. Herrin said he reaches out to former and current players to help coach and assist campers. “A lot of my former players, some of them are playing basketball in college. A lot of them are current players. Plus we have a young lady (Maci Dale) helping us from Kansas (High School) who just graduated who is doing it as a community service project,” he said. “They help coach and assist in teaching skills and help referee and kind of do everything they have to do to kind of keep it running smoothly.” Creek Nation citizen William Leach, a Sequoyah High School graduate, said volunteering is a way to give back to the community, which makes him feel good about himself. “Helping out the kids and I like giving back. It’s a lot of fun. I think they’re just getting the most out of having fun and enjoying the game. And I think they just like being around each other, you know. They like to have fun,” Leach said. “I like coming to the community. There’s not many camps around here. You can go to Tulsa and the kids have camps every weekend. So anytime I get a chance to help out, I like to help out and give back,” he said. The camp is offered to students in grades first through ninth. They don’t have to be Cherokee or attend Sequoyah Schools. The cost is $40, which provides free breakfast and lunch, if needed, and a T-shirt. Campers in grades first through fifth go from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and campers in grades sixth through ninth attend in the afternoon. Although the boys camp is done, the girls three-day camp will begin May 31. Those interested in attending can show up at the Place Where They Play gym at 8 a.m. and fill out an application. The gym is located on the SHS campus. Herrin said he tries to hold the camps each summer after school ends. “They can learn a lot of teamwork, a lot of social skills besides just the benefit of getting out and being active. Getting off video games and sitting inside and getting out and doing something is really good for these guys,” he said.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
05/27/2016 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In April, the Tribal Council passed a law creating a judgment fund that would be used to pay for any judgment against the Cherokee Nation. “The judgment fund is modeled after the U.S. government judgment fund. What the premise of the idea is that Congress, which would be the council in our scenario, would appropriate money to a judgment fund. And they would do that based on what the risk may be out there any given year,” Attorney General Todd Hembree said. Hembree said it falls to the legislators because they appropriate monies for the tribe’s annual budget. “When there is a judgment against the Cherokee Nation…well that money would have to come from somewhere. So that means it would have to come from a budget that otherwise wasn’t intended for,” he said. “What a judgment fund does is an exercise in good government. The council knows and departments know that if there is a judgment, it comes out of this fund. It doesn’t affect any other budgets. They can plan…knowing that nothing is going to disrupt that.” Hembree said many governments have judgments funds and that it was time for the tribe to follow suit. As of publication, no monies were in the judgment fund but creating the fund was the first step, he said. “The legislation is passed. It’s been signed. So sometime in the next two to three months the council will need to make a determination of how much money to put in there and to appropriate that money,” he said. Departmental budgets are being submitted to the council, he said, so this is an opportune time to decide what should be placed within that fund. The Attorney General’s Office would certify any judgment, he said, whether it’s from the CN court system or another court against the CN. Once certified, he added, the tribal treasurer would pay the judgment out of the fund. “It’s not a first-come, first-served. No one party claimant can take more than half (of what is in the fund) any given fiscal year. You take up to half of it and then next year you take more or the other half of your judgment,” he said. “Or, at any time, just like any budget modification, the council can add more money into the judgment fund as the year goes on.” Any judgments following the date the fund was signed into law would be tied to receiving their payments through this fund. Having this fund, Hembree said, brings budgetary stability to the tribe. “We have departments that make an estimate of their expenditures for the next year. It just helps solidify that nothing’s going to come an disrupt, no judgment will come in and disrupt that next year’s budget…If there’s a judgment, it doesn’t have to come out of education’s budget or health. It comes out of the judgment fund,” he said. “They won’t have to worry…we’re taking that out of the equation.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/26/2016 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation donated $195,000 on May 26 to eight area Boys & Girls Clubs in northeastern Oklahoma. The organizations serve Cherokee and Native American students in their summer and afterschool programs. The CN gave checks to clubs in Adair, Sequoyah, Cherokee, Mayes, Nowata, Rogers, Delaware and Washington counties. Currently, the programs serve more than 10,000 students. “We remain a proud and consistent financial supporter of the mentoring work done by the Boys & Girls Clubs,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “Participating in the activities of a local club means access to community-based mentors and educational opportunities that will help our youth grow into their full potential. Supporting the mission of Boys and Girls Club is another opportunity where Cherokee Nation can have a positive influence in the lives of Cherokee children." The tribe has contributed more than $2 million total since 2008 to help the afterschool programs continue character and leadership development among both Cherokee youth and non-Native students. “The Boys & Girls Clubs provide an invaluable service to thousands of students within the Cherokee Nation,” Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd said. “These clubs provide a safe place for children to learn and grow, while also offering new experiences and a variety of hands-on activities. The Cherokee Nation is proud to partner with these eight clubs in order to enhance their programs for Cherokee and non-Cherokee students alike.” With the second-largest enrollment of any club in the CN, the Boys & Girls Club of Sequoyah County depends heavily on CN funding to maintain operations at the club’s six facilities in Sequoyah County. “Cherokee Nation’s support means a lot to the Boys & Girls Club of Sequoyah County. It enables us to continue to provide funding for our programs and kids that need us the most in the county,” Laura Kuykendall, Boys & Girls Club of Sequoyah County representative, said. The Boys & Girls Clubs of America serves more than 4 million young people throughout the country and on military bases worldwide. <strong>The CN donated to the following clubs.</strong> Organization-Enrollment-Award Amount Adair County- 1,181- $21,797.52 Bartlesville- 1,187- $21,908.66 Chelsea- 327- $6,035.49 Tahlequah- 4,325- $79,827.26 Delaware County- 926- $17,091.34 Green Country-Pryor- 420- $7,7502.01 Nowata- 669- $12,347.85 Sequoyah County- 1,530- $28,239.47
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/26/2016 10:45 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to a United Keetoowah Band press release, UKB Assistant Chief Joe H. Bunch was sworn in as principal chief during a May 25 ceremony held in the UKB Community Service Court Chambers. UKB District Judge Dewayne Littlejohn administered the oath of office to Bunch a day after the Tribal Council voted to remove former Principal Chief George Wickliffe from office during an impeachment process. “This is an unfortunate event, but we are going to move forward. Many of our members depend on our services and in what we do as elected officials. This is a good time to start the healing process. I expect nothing but the best as we move forward,” Bunch said after taking his oath. Bunch was elected in a 2014 special election to serve the final two years of the late Assistant Chief Charles Locust’s four-year term. With the removal of Wickliffe, Bunch now fills the principal chief’s role for the remainder of that four-year term. Wickliffe was elected to his third four-year term in November 2012. On May 24, UKB citizens listened to articles of impeachment against Wickliffe by Tahlequah District Rep. Anile Locust and Tribal Secretary Ella Mae Worley. Among the allegations against Wickliffe were: • Prohibited Worley and her predecessor, Shelbi Wofford, from having full access to the tribe’s financial records, its now-closed casino and nongaming businesses, • Signed multiple contracts without Tribal Council authorization, • Authorized almost $400,000 in cash advances to himself and Delaware District Rep. Jerry Hansen, Saline District Rep. Charles Smoke and Goingsnake District Rep. Willie Christie (Christie has since repaid the tribe), • Used a tribal credit card to pay his personal accounts with DirectTV, Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) and Oklahoma Natural Gas, as well as at least two of his son’s bills, • Used a tribal credit card to reclaim at least three guns from a local pawn shop, • Used a tribal credit card to buy tires for three Tribal Councilors, plus a range top and air conditioning unit for a family member, • Provided himself with $5,000 in scholarship funds after the tribe curtailed its higher education program, • Allowed the UKB Corporate Authority Board to sell a $30,000 tribal vehicle to the late Assistant Chief Locust for $5,000, • Authorized the disbursement of more than $40,000 from the tribe’s general fund and more than $4,000 from the motor fuel fund to Charles Locust’s widow without Tribal Council approval, and • Allowed his personal secretary to apply for services that she was not eligible for, as well as drive a government-issued vehicle without a current driver’s license. Wickliffe initially balked when given the opportunity to respond to the charges. When he did accept a microphone, he said he could not be wholly blamed for the tribe’s financial straits since its casino closed in 2013 and would have returned the money if he had been asked. “I don’t owe the tribe anything,” he said. “Neither does the council. I didn’t know the United Keetoowah Band could do this.” The Tribal Council adjourned into executive session for 90 minutes before reconvening and voting 7-4 to remove Wickliffe from office for violating the UKB’s Constitution. The Tribal Council also barred him from holding an elected or appointed position within the tribe. Following the removal vote, Bunch ordered Wickliffe to turn in his office keys and tribal cell phone and was escorted out by UKB Lighthorse. Wickliffe has seven days from May 24 to file an appeal in the tribe’s court system. The next UKB election will be Nov. 7. All district representative, treasurer, secretary, assistant chief and principal chief positions will be open for election.
BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Special Correspondent
05/25/2016 03:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – After a 90-minute executive session, the United Keetoowah Band’s Tribal Council on May 24 voted 7-4 to remove Principal Chief George Wickliffe from office. “Turn in your keys, walkie-talkie, radio and anything else you have,” Assistant Chief Joe Bunch said, drawing cheers from the standing room only crowd at the Jim Proctor Elder Community Center. Along with removal from office, Wickliffe was also barred for life from holding any elected or appointed positions within the tribe. [BLOCKQUOTE]Citing financial improprieties, the tribe’s treasurer, Ella Mae Worley, filed three articles of impeachment against Wickliffe earlier in the month. Among the allegations against Wickliffe contained within the three counts were: • Prohibited Worley and her predecessor, Shelbi Wofford, from having full access to the tribe’s financial records, its now-closed casino and nongaming businesses, • Signed multiple contracts without Tribal Council authorization, • Authorized almost $400,000 in cash advances to himself and Delaware District Rep. Jerry Hansen, Saline District Rep. Charles Smoke and Goingsnake District Rep. Willie Christie (Christie has since repaid the tribe), • Used a tribal credit card to pay his personal accounts with DirectTV, Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) and Oklahoma Natural Gas, as well as at least two of his son’s bills, • Used a tribal credit card to reclaim at least three guns from a local pawn shop, • Used a tribal credit card to buy tires for three Tribal Councilors, plus a range top and air conditioning unit for a family member, • Provided himself with $5,000 in scholarship funds after the tribe curtailed its higher education program, • Allowed the UKB Corporate Authority Board to sell a $30,000 tribal vehicle to the late Assistant Chief Charles Locust for $5,000, • Authorized the disbursement of more than $40,000 from the tribe’s general fund and more than $4,000 from the motor fuel fund to Locust’s widow without council approval, and • Allowed his personal secretary to apply for services that she was not eligible for, as well as drive a government-issued vehicle without a current driver’s license. “I didn’t do this because I wanted to,” Worley said. “I did this because it is the right thing to do. This is the people’s money.” On all counts against Wickliffe, the Tribal Council reached a simple majority on each against him. However, as per the UKB Constitution, at least two-thirds of the Tribal Council had to vote for Wickliffe’s removal, as well as barring him from holding any elected or appointed position. Those voting for removal were Worley, Bunch, Secretary Joyce Hawk, Tahlequah District Rep. Anile Locust, Sequoyah District Rep. Barry Dotson, Illinois District Rep. Peggy Girty and Flint District Rep. Tom Duncan. The final officer to cast a vote for removal, Hawk silently deliberated for several minutes, eliciting calls of “Do the right thing” and other comments from the crowd. Hansen, Smoke, Christie and Canadian District Rep. Eddie Sacks voted against Wickliffe’s removal. Cooweescoowee District Rep. Clifford Wofford was absent. Wickliffe has seven days to file an appeal with the tribe’s judiciary. Elected to his third four-year term in November 2012, the now-former chief said little during the hearing and initially balked when given the opportunity to defend himself. When he did accept a microphone, he said he could not be wholly blamed for the tribe’s financial straits since its casino closed in 2013 and would have returned the money if he had been asked. “I don’t owe the tribe anything,” he said, eliciting jeers from the audience. “Neither does the council. I didn’t know the United Keetoowah Band could do this.” Escorted by Lighthorse officers, Wickliffe did not speak to reporters after the hearing.