UPDATED: 2019 ‘Remember the Removal’ cyclists introduced
The 2019 “Remember the Removal” cyclists are mentor rider Kevin Stretch, left, Shadow Hardbarger, Josh Chavez, Steven Shade, Kayli Gonzales, Ashley Hunnicutt, Elizabeth Hummingbird, Sydnie Pierce, Brooke Bailey, Destiny Matthews and mentor rider Marie Eubanks. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
“Remember the Removal” cyclists took part in a first aid class on Feb. 23 at the Cherokee Nation EMS building in Tahlequah. The 11 cyclists learned CPR, the importance of staying hydrated during the 950-mile ride and how to stop bleeding. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation Paramedic Nathan Buscher shows 2019 “Remember the Removal” cyclist Sydnie Pierce of Locust Grove how to adjust a tourniquet on the upper arm during first aid training for the cyclists on Feb. 23. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
“Remember the Removal” trainer Sarah Holcomb goes over hand and arm signals before a training ride on Feb. 24 in Tahlequah. The 11 cyclists have been training since December to prepare to ride through seven states in June. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation recently introduced the nine youth cyclists and two mentor riders who are training for the “Remember the Removal” bicycle ride this June.
The nine youth cyclists are Brooke Bailey, Josh Chavez, Kayli Gonzales, Shadow Hardbarger, Elizabeth Hummingbird, Ashley Hunnicutt, Destiny Matthews, Sydnie Pierce and Steven Shade. Mentor cyclists are 55-year-old Marie Eubanks, a teaching assistant at the Cherokee Immersion Charter School, and 58-year-old Kevin Stretch, interim director of CN Community & Cultural Outreach.
This year marks the 180th anniversary of when Cherokee people reached Indian Territory in 1839 following months of traveling in 13 contingents from eastern Tennessee.
Hardbarger, 24, of Marble City, said she was encouraged to apply for the annual ride by friends who previously completed it.
“They always would tell me what a journey it is and that it would be a really good experience for someone like me,” Hardbarger said. “I was so happy when I found out I had been selected. My fellow riders are so nice, so smart, and we’ve made really good friendships. They’ve given me a lot of support. When we’re training on the bikes, I might be the last one done, but the other riders are always there cheering for me. I’ve been able to learn so much from them, and together we’re learning about our Cherokee ancestors. I can’t imagine the feeling we’ll get when we are out on the trail together and see what our ancestors went through.”
This year also marks the 35th anniversary of the inaugural 1984 “Remember the Removal” bike ride. During that ride, 20 students, ride coordinators and two bicycle consultants set out from Cherokee, North Carolina, on bicycles followed by vans and a converted school bus with supplies. The group finished the ride in about a month, covering about 1,100 miles. Along the way they raised awareness that the forced removals or “Trail of Tears” happened and encouraged the federal government to mark the trails.
This June, 11 CN cyclists and 10 Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians cyclists will travel nearly 1,000 miles retracing the Northern Route of the Trail of Tears. The ride will begin in Georgia and travel through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
The ride became an annual event in 2009 when the CN Education Department revived the ride with the idea of developing leadership in Cherokee youth to give them confidence to take on future challenges and to give them a glimpse of the hardships their ancestors faced when they made the same trek. The EBCI joined the ride in 2011.
CN cyclists are selected based on essays, interviews and a physical to ensure they are up for the challenge. After selection, CN participants are required to take part in a physical training schedule and attend history and Cherokee language classes for six months. The cyclists began training in the tribe’s recreation center on spin bikes in December but are now training outside on their bicycles.
Steven Shade, 24, of Briggs, credits his grandfather with encouraging him to learn more about his Cherokee heritage.
“He implanted in me the idea that I should be appreciative of who I am, that I am more unique than what I know,” Shade said. “That got me thinking about joining the ‘Remember the Removal’ bike ride. I was selected out of so many applicants, and that was unreal. It felt really special, and I feel more proud than I have ever been. I’m looking forward to being where our ancestors were and visiting historical sites that I visited when I was much, much younger, at a time when I didn’t fully appreciate what I was seeing and taking in.”
The cyclists will visit the Kituwah Mound in the original Cherokee homeland where a send-off ceremony will be held. They will also visit the former Cherokee meeting site at Red Clay, Tennessee; New Echota, the former Cherokee capital in Georgia; stop at Blythe’s Ferry along the Tennessee River, where Cherokees gathered and were moved across the river; stop at unmarked graves of their ancestors along the route; and take time to reflect on their ancestors at Mantle Rock in Kentucky.
A genealogist will also compile each rider’s family tree before the trip, providing the group with insights into their ancestral past and any family links they might share with other cyclists.
Starting in the spring of 1838, Cherokee people were rounded up and forced from their homes in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina and moved to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, as part of the federal Indian Removal Act. Of the estimated 12,000 Cherokees forced to make the journey, an estimated 4,000 died due to exposure, starvation and disease before, during and after the journey. The Northern Route followed by “Remember the Removal” cyclists is one of six removal routes. The cyclists will leave New Echota on June 2 and will arrive June 20 in Tahlequah.
“It is quite an honor to be one of the few chosen for this opportunity of a lifetime,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “By the time these young men and young women leave to begin their journey on May 28, they will have spent more than half a year training together and developing a bond that will last a lifetime. As is true year after year, I am convinced the lives of these Cherokees will be forever changed along this journey.”
For more information or to follow the journey, visit www.facebook.com/removal.ride
and watch for the #RTR2019 and #RTR35 hashtags on the official CN Twitter (@CherokeeNation) and Instagram (@TheCherokeeNation) in honor of the inaugural ride’s 35th anniversary. 2019 “Remember the Removal” Cherokee Nation cyclistsAdair County
Destiny Matthews, 20, Watts
Elizabeth Hummingbird, 21, Peavine
Marie Eubanks, 55, Rocky MountainCherokee County
Joshua Chavez, 24, Tahlequah
Brooke Bailey, 23, Lost City
Kayli Gonzales, 22, Welling
Ashley Hunnicutt, 24, Tahlequah
Steven Shade, 24, Briggs
Kevin Stretch, 58, TahlequahMayes County
Sydnie Pierce, 23, Locust Grove
Shadow Hardbarger, 24, Marble City