Motorcyclists honor Trail of Tears with remembrance ride
Bikers from the Trail of TearsRemembrance Association ride Sept. 20 into Tahlequah, Okla. The ride beganSept. 17 in Chattanooga, Tenn., and arrived at the Cherokee Heritage Center inPark Hill, Okla. PHOTO BY CRAIG HENRY
PARK HILL, Okla. – More than 100 motorcyclists from across the United States rode to the Cherokee Heritage Center on Sept. 20 for the 17th annual Trail of Tears Motorcycle Remembrance Ride.
The goal is to educate the public about the historical event and honor Native American tribes displaced by the Indian Removal Act of the 1830s.
“I have felt strongly about helping to recall and keep fresh in people’s minds the events that occurred through the removal act in the 1800s. And you know, we want to keep fresh in people’s minds so that an event of that nature doesn’t occur again in this country,” said Jim Dunn, Trail of Tears Remembrance Association Inc. president.
The ride started Sept. 18 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Along the way, motorcyclists stopped in Florence, Ala., and Hot Springs, Ark., before arriving at the CHC.
The group was formed in 1994 by member Bill Cason to mark one of the trails used during the 1838 removal of the Native Americans from their southeastern homelands to Oklahoma.
With only eight riders, the first ride started at Ross’ Landing in Chattanooga, Tenn. and ended with 100 riders in Waterloo, Ala. Today, it has been known to have more than 150,000 riders who come from all across the country, including Native Americans representing tribal nations.
C. Kehoga Blanchard, of Tahlequah, is one of those Native Americans.
“Started out, you know, one of those things where most people have vacation,” Blanchard said. “I took my vacation time. Came back home. It was important enough to me, personal enough to me to kind of want to know a little bit more, little closer about what happened. We’re already losing enough of our culture, our arts and definitely our language.”
Blanchard has also made the ride from Cherokee, N.C. to Park Hill six times while carrying the Cherokee Nation flag on her bike.
“Most people have heard of the Trail of Tears, but they don’t really know anything about it,” Blanchard said. “Coming through some of the hills in Tennessee, I was carrying the flag and up front, lips were cracked. I had a bottle of water close and all I could think of when I was looking down and off into the ravine was that our people came up, over, down through all of this. We’re riding on a nice road, $20,000 machine. I know when the end of my trail is.”
Dunn said the best year was 2001, the first year riders actually made it to Oklahoma. It was also just after the 9/11 terror attacks.
“The main ride we had that year was 62 miles long and it was four days after 9/11. There was a lot of patriotism shown and a lot of people lining the road flying flags and things of that nature,” he said. “That was the biggest year, and that’s usually the Saturday ride because a lot of people don’t take off to go on to Oklahoma.”
Dunn said the group usually has about 175 to 250 that ride to Oklahoma.