‘Remember the Removal’ cyclists return home on June 21
TAHLEQUAH – After three weeks of riding through seven states, the “Remember the Removal” cyclists on June 21 rode into downtown through a sea of family and friends waiting to greet them.
They stopped at the new Cherokee National Peace Pavilion where leaders from the Cherokee Nation and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians honored them with a ceremony.
Before riding from Stilwell on the ride’s last day, Cherokee Nation Businesses Executive Vice President Chuck Garrett discussed what he learned about the ride and its participants. He rode the first week through Georgia and part of Tennessee with the cyclists. He said his pre-ride perception was that the annual event was primarily a bike ride rather than being about history and a shared experience.
“Working as a team together and visiting the historical sites that we visited, it became clear to me that this is a lot less about the bike, and it’s a lot more about our people and our history and a shared experience,” he said.
Garrett said he had not spent much time with young people like he did while riding the Trial of Tears’ Northern Route, but that it was “a good experience” to understand them better.
“I have to say that, we, as a nation, I think our future is bright. These young people are tough. They’re smart, and they’re persistent, and I think these are qualities that will serve the nation well,” he said.
Garrett also told spectators that seven cyclists are his cousins. Each year before the ride, a genealogist works on the cyclists’ Cherokee ancestries to determine if any of them are related.
“This journey was a reminder that we are all family,” he said. “This opportunity to share this extraordinary experience, I am so grateful for.”
He said the Cherokee people’s forced removal was “a crime against humanity beyond our imagination.”
“Our ancestors were put through trials and tribulations that no people should have to experience, and yet they preserved and they thrived, and we’re here today as evidence of that,” Garrett said. “We owe a gift to the extraordinary efforts of our ancestors. It’s a gift that I know these young people, and those of us that aren’t so young, feel a very special need to give back to the Nation and to each other.”
Chief of Staff Chuck Hoskin said the ceremony celebrated both the cyclists’ return and their Cherokee ancestors. “What these young people have on the uniforms they’re wearing says a great deal. It says, ‘we will never forget.’ What we’re here to do today is to not only celebrate our riders but to celebrate our Cherokee ancestors. That’s what this is all about. I thought at one time that it might be appropriate to ask for a moment of silence, but then I thought, ‘no,’ our ancestors today are joyful. They’re joyful that what they accomplished through the numerous hardships they endured is being rewarded today by their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren…still being here, still being Cherokee.”
Principal Chief Bill John Baker said he and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden had a “debriefing” with the 18 cyclists in Stilwell the night before they rode to Tahlequah. He told the cyclists’ families that the riders are not the same people who left three weeks ago. Baker said they are stronger leaders who know more about their history and culture.
“They fully understand that the riders on either side of them are now their family for now and forever. They get it. They get what has made Cherokees strong since the beginning of time. It’s family,” he said. “They were talking about being Cherokee. They survived. They adapted, and they excelled. Some of them had a harder time than others, but they talked about the ones who were stronger who stayed back and helped them succeed.”
EBCI rider Bo Taylor said he spent two years as a part of the ride. In 2017, he trained for the ride but wrecked his bike days before it began, breaking nine ribs. “It’s been a long two years for me, but through prayer and my team I have learned a lot about myself.”
Taylor also touted this year’s women riders, saying the tribe has “some amazing women.” This year, 11 of the 18 riders were women. Taylor gave special recognition to CN trainer Sarah Holcomb as well as riders Lori Owle, Amari McCoy and Jan Smith, who was the oldest rider at 62.
He said the Trail of Tears does not epitomize “who we are as Cherokee people.”
“We have been around for thousands of years, and we’re going to be around a lot longer than that. The Trail of Tears cannot be who we are. We are not defeated,” he said.