In 1984, a group of students and volunteers road bicycles across North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illionis, Missouri and Arkansas to remember the removal of thousands of Cherokees from their homelands in Indian Territory in Oklahoma in 1838-39. “The ride in 1984 was the first to retract and remember the removal of Cherokees from their homelands,” Todd Enlow, Cherokee Nation Group Leader of Leadership told us. The ride was revived again in 2009 by the Cherokee Nation’s Leadership Group. “We felt it was a good opportunity to teach leadership lessons by honoring our ancestors and retracing the Northern Route on the 25th anniversary of the 1984 ride (the same route our peripatetic correspondent, Ron Cooper, hiked this year.)
Cherokee Nation recently announced the selection of this year’s participants for the 900-mile cross-country bike ride. The ride started on Friday, June 3rd in Cherokee, North Carolina, where they met riders from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. They’ll bike through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma, ending on Friday, June 24, in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the capitol of Cherokee Nation. The 2011 Remember the Removal Ride includes 12 riders from Cherokee Nation and 5 from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
“We ask for applications from any Cherokee citizen who would like to learn more about their history and personal strengths,” Enlow said. “Riders are selected based on responses in the application process.”
The Remember the Removal Ride’s goal is to educate youth about the Trail of Tears while also teaching them leadership skills. The organizers believe there’s no better way to promote awareness of the Trail of Tears then by having riders re-visit the areas where their ancestors’ journey took place. Riders serve as moving goodwill ambassadors as they cycle the 900 miles, providing education and awareness of the modern-day achievements of Cherokee people.
“The riders not only interact with one another, but they also interact with the press and other local residents along the route,” Enlow said. “We will make stops at several historic sites along the route and meet with local and state officials, learning and sharing everyday. This is a great opportunity for everyone to learn; riders learn local history from local volunteers and the local residents learn about the resolve of Cherokees young and old that face adversity, survive, adapt, prosper and excel.”
In order to reach their goal of ending on June 24, the Cherokee Nation’s Remember the Removal riders committed to riding an average of 60 to 70 miles a day in whatever weather conditions they face and camping at night throughout the route. Riders were subjected to pre-event training in order to prepare for the event.
“Remember the Removal riders test the limits of their physical capabilities, mirroring in part the hardships of their Cherokee ancestors and fostering an appreciation for the degree of endurance of those who made the same trek on foot long ago,” Enlow said.
“Since the riders will face some very long days in the hills of Tennessee and Missouri, we train on routes around Tahlequah that will give them experiences of hills. One particular hill on Horseshoe Bend Road (south of Tahlequah, near Keys) is the most difficult hill during training. It is not an extremely long hill, but the incline is greater than any that they will face during the ride. That hill teaches everyone about determination and mental strength that they will need during the actual ride.”
Enlow reflected on the importance that inaugural ride had on reminding people about what had happened on the trail starting in 1839, “The riders in 1984 brought to light the importance of remembering the events that occurred during the removal. Not long after the ride in 1984, the United States government recognized the Trail of Tears as a National Historic Trail. That ride serves as constant reminder for those riders who are employees and leaders for the Cherokee Nation today. The lessons that they learned and each rider learns is not just about the loss during the route, but the events that lead up to the removal and ultimately the strength of the Cherokee Nation to rebuild a strong, vibrant Nation.”