Q&A with ‘Remember the Removal’ participants

BY KENLEA HENSON
Former Reporter
05/02/2018 12:00 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Jennifer Barger Johnson
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Emilee Chavez
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Daulton Cochran
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Courtney Cowan
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Lily Drywater
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Dale Eagle
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Autumn Lawless
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Amari McCoy
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Parker Weavel
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Sky Wildcat
Main Cherokee Phoenix
The 2018 “Remember the Removal” Bike Ride participants are, standing left to right: Sky Wildcat, Autumn Lawless, Courtney Cowan, Parker Weavel, Lily Drywater, Dale Eagle and Daulton Cochran. Seated left to right: Amari McCoy, Emilee Chavez, Jennifer Barger Johnson. WILL CHAVEZ/ CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – On May 29, the Cherokee Nation’s “Remember the Removal” Bike Ride participants will travel to Cherokee, North Carolina, to meet the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian’s cyclists and embark on a nearly 1,000 mile journey to Tahlequah, retracing the Trail of Tears’ Northern Route.

The Cherokee Phoenix caught up with the CN participants for a question-and-answer session to learn about why they applied for this year’s ride, the training and the history and language classes they’ve been taking since January.

Mentor Rider: Jennifer Barger Johnson
Age: 47
Hometown: Oklahoma City
Occupation: University of Central Oklahoma professor/ municipal judge/attorney


CP: Why did you apply?

Barger Johnson: I wanted to honor those who were faced the removal; I also want to help bring awareness to these events in our history. I also want to show my children how important the tribe and these events are to our heritage.

CP: What do you hope to take away from this experience?

Barger Johnson: I hope to take away a better understanding of our tribal history including the trials and tribulations faced by those on the removal journey.

CP: How has the training and history and language classes been so far?

Barger Johnson: The history and language courses have re-enforced much of the knowledge I had in this area, but brought forward many events that I hadn’t been exposed to. Hearing our language has been the most difficult part for me but at the same time the most rewarding. The physical training has been so rigorous but we have gotten to know each other so well. Sarah (our trainer) does an amazing job, and I cannot say enough about the alumni (RTR) riders who have been present helping us every step of the way. Kudos to them all.

Name: Emilee Chavez
Age: 18
Hometown: Tahlequah
School: Sequoyah High School


CP: Why did you apply?

Chavez: I wanted to prove to myself that I could do something as big as this, with people I had never met before, because my anxiety and depression had prevented me for years from doing things I wanted to do.

CP: What do you hope to take away from this experience?

Chavez: I hope to become strong and more understanding of my history as a Native American.

CP: How has the training and history and language classes been so far?

Chavez: The classes have been interesting. It’s been difficult to hear of all the things my ancestors went through while on the trail and knowing they lost several loved ones on the way. Training has been hard, but it’s slowly getting easier now that I know what I’m doing. I am gaining a better understanding of my limits.

Name: Daulton Cochran
Age: 21
Hometown: Bell
School: Tulsa Community College


CP: Why did you apply?

Cochran: I applied because I wanted to know more and because I wanted to reconnect with my roots.

CP: What do you hope to take away from this experience?

Cochran: I hope to take away a great respect and understanding of what my people went through so that we could have a chance to prosper.

CP: How has the training and history and language classes been so far?

Cochran: The have been great, especially the history classes. Hearing the accounts of what our people endured gives me that extra push to climb the last hill of the day when training.

Name: Courtney Cowan
Age: 24
Hometown: Kansas, Oklahoma
Occupation: Cherokee Nation special assistant


CP: Why did you apply?

Cowan: Well I didn’t grow up traditionally, and I’ve struggled to find my identity after finishing college basketball and graduating. From what I’ve heard this ride brings you back with different perspective. I’ve felt like things have been missing throughout my life, and I’m hoping this ride can put the pieces back together. This ride marks the next step in my life. I am very excited I get to represent Cherokee Nation and myself as a person on this journey.

CP: What do you hope to take away from this experience?

Cowan: I hope to have more confidence in myself. Knowing not many people today have completed this journey. I hope to have more knowledge about my ancestors and our Cherokee ways. Overall I just hope to come out of this as a stronger Cherokee.

CP: How has the training and history and language classes been so far?

Cowan: So far everything has been really interesting. I didn’t grow up traditionally, so pretty much everything that we are being taught is new to me. As far as the training goes it’s been a whole new challenge for me. It’s a lot different that playing basketball and working out. I love a challenge, and I’ve always been active but there’s nothing like riding a bike all day. It’s really tough.

Name: Lily Drywater
Age: 20
Hometown: Tahlequah
School: Northeastern State University


CP: Why did you apply?

Drywater: I applied for the ride because I saw an opportunity to learn more about my history, heritage and the hardships we have overcome as a people.

CP: What do you hope to take away from this experience?

Drywater: I hope to learn more about my people and the hardships they endured on the trail. I want to know more about who we were before the removal and how we might use that knowledge to help us move forward. Also, I hope to bond with my teammates, because I look forward to being a family after we accomplish the ride.

CP: How has the training and history and language classes been so far?

Drywater: I have found the classes so far to be very beneficial because I hope to one day know a lot of the language. Maybe one day I could be a fluent speaker. Training has been a great bonding experience with my team. It’s been a lot of fun because everyone is always laughing, which makes the pain of exercise a little easier.

Name: Dale Eagle
Age: 23
Hometown: Tahlequah
Occupation: W.W. Hastings Hospital transport driver


CP: Why did you apply?

Eagle: I applied to not only learn more about my culture and the history of the Trail of Tears but to also make new friends and hopefully help my depression.

CP: What do you hope to take away from this experience?

Eagle: I hope to grasp better knowledge of my people and understand my culture more. Making new friends is a plus.

CP: How has the training and history and language classes been so far?

Eagle: So far training hasn’t been too bad, however history and language is harder, more so the language than the history.

Name: Autumn Lawless
Age: 21
Hometown: Porum
School: Northeastern State University


CP: Why did you apply?

Lawless: So many reasons. 1. I knew that this was a direct route to be involved and more about culture. 2. I wanted to prove to myself I could do this. 3. I love being part of a team, something bigger than myself. 4. I know past riders, I saw how the ride impacted them, changed them, and I know I wanted that for myself. 5. I wanted to learn about my family, my genealogy.

CP: What do you hope to take away from this experience?

Lawless: This is such a powerful experience. I hope to take away strength, confidence and more knowledge about myself and my people. No matter what, I know I have gained a new family from this experience.

CP: How has the training and history and language classes been so far?

Lawless: I think it’s been going well. Some days the history weighs on your mind while you ride. Recently, it has been very cold during training. But when you read about your ancestors not having shoes or only a sheet to keep warm it makes it harder for you to complain. We know that no matter what, once it gets dark we’re done for the day. They had no idea when their suffering would end. This experience definitely humbles you and gives you perspective.

Name: Amari McCoy
Age: 21
Hometown: Sallisaw
School: Carl Albert State College


CP: Why did you apply?

McCoy: It’s difficult to specifically say why I applied but one of my reasons is identity. Growing up, I defined myself as an athlete, and I didn’t know who I was without a ball in my hand. I was raised at the stomp ground, so I was surrounded by my culture and that was something that always felt right to me.

CP: What do you hope to take away from this experience?

McCoy: I hope to gain a deeper connection to my ancestors and my culture by trying to understand the involuntary sacrifice they made for me.

CP: How has the training and history and language classes been so far?

McCoy: The whole process has been challenging mentally, physically and spiritually, but it has been the most fulfilling experience.

Name: Parker Weavel
Age: 20
Hometown: Tahlequah
School: Northeastern State University


CP: Why did you apply?

Weavel: I applied to the bike ride to get a better understanding of what Cherokee culture is truly about. Throughout the years I kind of lost my love and appreciation for Cherokee culture. Hopefully this ride can rekindle the flame and teach me things that I’ve never known before.

CP: What do you hope to take away from this experience?

Weavel: I hope that I can become more involved with my culture and comprehend the tragedy that occurred during the 1830s.

CP: How has the training and history and language classes been so far?

Weavel: The history and language portion of our required training has been amazing. Wyman Kirk has done a tremendous job at educating us in the language and history of our tribe. Also, our physical trainer, Sarah Holcomb, has also done a great job at making sure all of the riders are at the same pace.

Name: Sky Wildcat
Age: 22
Hometown: Muskogee
School: Northeastern State University graduate student
Occupation: Graduate assistant at NSU Center for Tribal Studies


CP: Why did you apply?

Wildcat: I have seen the impact the ride has had on many of friends. I wanted that same experience and to develop my identity as a Native even further. I’ve had opportunities to see who we as Cherokees in current society, but lately I felt like I needed to see more of where we come from, how we got here and what it took to keep us going.

CP: What do you hope to take away form this experience?

Wildcat: I hope to away a better understanding of our resilience. I have a lot of personal struggles, as we all do, but a lot of times I forget the strength I come from. I want to be able to remember how hard it was to keep going, but know that I got through it. I also want to develop more connections with other Cherokees who have similar ideals, and I’m glad that I’m already doing that with my team.

CP: How has the training and history and language classes been so far?

Wildcat: I won’t lie. The training has been difficult but fulfilling. It is almost a lifestyle change for me because I know I needed to focus on healthier options, at least more than before, and exercising. The classes have been equally as fulfilling and are essential to the entire process. The (Butrick) journal gives us real accounts of what the removal was like, and we all try to remember them (ancestors) when we are struggling during training.

RTR By the Numbers

4
Number of major rivers crossed while on the ride: Tennessee, Ohio, Mississippi and Arkansas.

7
Number of states traveled the cyclists will travel through: Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

8-10
Number of 16-ounce bottles of water consumed daily on a 90-degree day.

19
Days they will spend on the road. Seventeen days will be riding and two will be rest days.

75
Approximate number of miles for the longest ride of the trip from Lebanon, Missouri, to Springfield, Missouri.

950
Approximate number of miles the cyclists will travel on the “Remember the Removal” Bike Ride.

1,572
Number in feet of the highest elevation that will be climbed near Pikeville, Tennessee.

4,000
Number of estimated calories burned by a cyclist on a 50-mile day. Calorie burns vary depending on a person’s weight and the day’s terrain.

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