Q&A with EBCI ‘Remember the Removal’ participants

BY KENLEA HENSON
Former Reporter
05/29/2018 12:00 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Nolan Arkansas
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Brooke Coggins
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Seth David Ledford
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Darius Ian Lambert
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Lori Owle
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Jan Smith
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Ahli-sha Stephens
Main Cherokee Phoenix
James Bo Taylor
CHEROKEE, N.C. – Since 2011, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians citizens have joined Cherokee Nation citizens to retrace the Northern Route of the Trail of Tears as part of the nearly 1,000-mile “Remember the Removal” bicycle ride.

Although both tribes have a similar application process, as well as the same goal of historical and cultural awareness, the EBCI ride is coordinated through the tribe’s Cherokee Choices program, which is geared to improving health among its citizens from ages 15 to 65. The EBCI riders were expected to initially meet the CN participants on May 31 in Cherokee before the combined group makes its way from New Echota, Georgia, to Tahlequah, Oklahoma, beginning June 3.

The Cherokee Phoenix caught up to the EBCI participants to learn more about them.

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Name: Nolan Arkansas
Age: 18
Hometown: Cherokee
School: Yale University


CP: Why did you apply?

Arkansas: I decided to apply for RTR after watching a short documentary about the ride. Cherokee people, whether from EBCI or Cherokee Nation, had such a unique perspective on what it means to be Cherokee. They were excited, emotional and ecstatic to be a member of a tribe with such rich and resilient history. I wanted to be a part of that.

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

Arkansas: With this biking experience, I hope to mend my own gaps of knowledge about the Trail of Tears and Cherokee history in general. I hope to walk away from this ride knowing that I have experienced just a fraction of what my ancestors experienced, and I want to be sure I am motivated to act and live in a way that honors them.

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

Arkansas: The syllabary classes have been a great way for our members to become more of a team. Even a small step towards language reclamation has helped us form a stronger crew mentality. As for training, everyone varies in ability and speed, but we are still able to train together, which is rewarding not only because we ourselves improve, but because we have seen improvements in our teammates.

Name: Brooke Coggins
Age: 23
Hometown: Bryson City
School: Western Carolina University


CP: Why did you apply?

Coggins: I wanted to feel closer to my community and have a better understanding of where our resilience as a people stemmed from.

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

Coggins: Insight to our people’s strength and a direction of how to bring back my experience to help better the growth in our community.

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

Coggins: I have learned so much about Cherokee history, culture and my personal family’s history. It has been at times difficult but equally a rewarding journey, especially as it’s almost time to begin our ride.

Name: Seth David Ledford
Age: 18
Hometown: Cherokee
School: Smokey Mountain High School


CP: Why did you apply?

Ledford: Because I feel I need to feel what my ancestors went through, and I need to get closer to my heritage.

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

Ledford: I hope that I come back a better person with a different look on life.

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

Ledford: I found the history and language classes very helpful and interesting. The training has been good. It’s hard, but I expected that with the journey ahead.

Name: Darius Ian Lambert
Age: 17
Hometown: Cherokee
School: Cherokee Central Schools


CP: Why did you apply?

Lambert: I applied to this ride to learn more about my ancestors who walked the Trail of Tears, but also to challenge myself mentally and physically.

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

Lambert: I hope to have more knowledge and a better perspective of life.

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

Lambert: It’s been a challenge for us all, but we’ve become one hell of a group. The classes were great.

Name: Lori Owle
Age: 47
Hometown: Cherokee
Occupation: Cherokee Indian Hospital Satellite Clinic manager


CP: Why did you apply?

Owle: I was very fortunate to come from a strong, loving family. Family is everything. I have always looked for opportunities to improve myself personally and professionally. I was a teenage mother and always had limits to what I was able to do due to my parental responsibilities along with many struggles, but what I wanted to be was a positive role model for my daughter. Family is what we are about as a tribe. This is an opportunity to grow myself physically, mentally and emotionally while learning about Cherokee history and the removal and how it impacted my family years ago.

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

Owle: I hope this experience makes me into a strong Cherokee woman like my grandmother Leola. I experienced a great loss and never felt I was able to overcome the heartbreak of losing my dad at a young age. My grandmother Leola had lost two sons, and even though she grieved she kept her focus on our family and she was a loving hard worker, and her life was about family and she is a great role model. Being able to retrace the route that our ancestors took during the removal will give me the sense of understanding of knowing we may not be able to control events in our life, but we have to appreciate and respect who we are and how strong we are and not let these experiences define us but be able to navigate our lives in a more positive way. I want to be a leader for our tribe by being an emotionally intelligent leader by having compassion for others and be an advocate for the tribe and show pride in who we are.

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

Owle: The training was physically and emotionally hard for me. I was not in the best physical shape and that made the training emotionally and mentally hard knowing I could do better, but I had physical struggles. I was part of a team and I had a team counting on me, so I had to do the best I could. The history and language classes would always bring me back to why I was doing this, and the physical part was not the focus of why I was doing this journey, the education of Cherokee history was. The classes were very rewarding, and we had the best people leading the classes who had wealth of knowledge that I still learn more everyday about our history and language.

Name: Jan Smith
Age: 62
Hometown: Cherokee
Occupation: Retired educator


CP: Why did you apply?

Smith: I have wanted to apply for the ride for a long time. I see the alumni riders giving back to the ride and their community and I wanted to be a part of it. Honoring our people who went before us who struggled but through their resiliency maintained our strong cultural identity. I want our people and the pain they endured to never be forgotten. Remember the Removal is a way to honor them to walk where they walked and feel their pain. It’s a small way for me to show that I am strong and resilient because of them.

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

Smith: A feeling that I have honored our removal ancestors and also the struggles of those left behind. To learn more of the Cherokee history, to create lifelong friendships and establish a bond between our western Cherokee brother and sisters and my eastern rider family. To be apart of a team to achieve a significant goal, which is RTR. Appreciate what I have – Cherokee history, culture, values and many benefits that I did not earn but received because of our ancestors.

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

Smith: I love all the classes we have had. The genealogy class helped me to discover my Cherokee roots and generations that I came from. The history class helped me to understand why our people became divided and some removed. The syllabary class helped me to understand the sounds of the characters and how valuable our language is. Those who are fortunate to be fluent speakers are treasures of our tribes. The classes have taught me my Cherokee identity. They have answered my many questions of why things are.

Name: Ahli-sha Stephens
Age: 33
Hometown: Cherokee
Occupation: Cherokee Elementary School administration


CP: Why did you apply?

Stephens: My husband, Jake Stephens, rode in 2015, and I loved hearing about his experience. I wanted to have my own experience. I wanted to see, feel and experience what our ancestors seen, felt and experienced. I want to honor them and what they went through. This will not only be a physical challenge but also a mental challenge.

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

Stephens: A new outlook of myself and my strength. Our Cherokee people were tough and even though my journey will be easier than theirs I want to experience as much of this journey as I can, the good and the bad. I want to return home and share my story and more importantly, their story. I hope to return home a different type of Cherokee woman.

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

Stephens: Amazing! I learned so much. The genealogy classes were the most interesting. To learn about your family and the roles they played in our history is valuable information I will cherish forever. Yonaguska, Junaluska and Tsali were on my family lineage as grandparents four generations back. Each history and language class I soaked up as much information as I could, I look forward to doing the same on the ride.

Name: James Bo Taylor
Age: 48
Hometown: Cherokee
Occupation: Museum of the Cherokee Indian director


CP: Why did you apply?

Taylor: I applied because of the stories that I heard from the alumni from the past. I heard that it was a life changing experience and I wanted to experience that for myself. Be careful what you wish for. I wanted to challenge myself and I really did not know what to expect. But now that this is my second attempt, I feel I have unfinished business that I need to finish. I need to complete this journey or at least give it my all. I want my girls to know that it is not ok to quit. I have always said that Cherokees always get up and do what they are supposed to do. I made a commitment to my God, family and my people to do my best. So that is why I am back to finish what I started.

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

Taylor: It has been probably the toughest thing I have ever attempted. It has challenged me mentally, physically and spiritually. I hope to have an experience that will make me a better person than when I started. I hope to gain life long friends and family. To gain a better sense of what my ancestors went through. It was an honor to be chosen to be a rider. I am humbled by the experience. I am not sure what will happen with the ride, but I do have great expectations that the Creator will make things happen and that we as a team will all be enriched by the journey.

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

Taylor: The trainings on history and culture have been extremely fun and educational. I love that it has been a communal effort made up of volunteers, past alumni and the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. Even through history and culture is my profession I have gained great insight by getting others prospective. I think it is essential to have this as part of the ride. Otherwise, it is just a sporting initiative. RTR is the link to our past, but also our future. I only wish more people could experience it for themselves.

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