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Remember the Removal cyclists leave to retrace forced removal

Lindsey Bark
Cherokee Phoenix

TAHLEQUAH – On May 28, a crowd larger than usual gathered under the awning of the Cherokee Nation’s W.W. Keeler Complex to send off this year’s Remember the Removal Bike Ride team.

The 12 riders, consisting of eight youth and four mentors, headed out to meet their teammates with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina before they begin the official ride from New Echota, Georgia, on June 3 to retrace the northern route of the Trail of Tears.

After months of training, the team was ready to begin the journey. Youth rider Camerin Fite-James is riding with his mother and mentor, Heather Fite.

“My aunt completed the ride in 201o – Amber Fite-Morgan. I was 11 years old at the time and the return ceremony was held at the then-Cherokee Nation Supreme Courthouse. I remember standing on the lawn as they rode in and thought, ‘I have to do that one day,’” he said. “I’m doing it with my mother, who is also a cyclist, so that in itself is extremely special. To do that with my mom … just makes it that more surreal and puts things into perspective that we really only are seven generations, and six generations for her, from the removal.”

Fite-James and Fite, along with their teammates Taylor Armbrister, Jaslyn Christie, Jasmine Goodman, Kiyah Holmes, Lexi Melton, Hannah Neugin, Jaxon Smith, Shawna Baker, Ashawna Miles and Kristy Ross, will ride 950 miles in an approximately three-week time span, ending the ride back in Tahlequah on June 21.

Mentor rider Ashawna Miles is of Freedmen descent.

“We have to tell the whole Cherokee story. With that is to discuss the slaves that were within Cherokee history. I have a lot that I am still learning. I want to be able to share that information not only with our riders, but with our future generations, as well,” Miles said.

Along the ride they will make stops at significant sites that include Cherokee gravesites and historic landmarks. The route spans several states including Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The team will stop at Blythe Ferry in Tennessee on the westernmost edge of the old CN where the last views of the homelands were seen by their Cherokee ancestors, and Mantle Rock in Kentucky where Cherokees spent several weeks during the 1838-39 winter waiting for the Ohio River to thaw before passing through.

“What they’re undertaking is one of the most serious, strenuous and meaningful undertakings that I think any Cherokee in modern times can undertake,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “When you go back across the centuries and think about what our ancestors went through, what most of this country does not understand is that the Cherokee people resisted removal. We resisted it for some time.”

He said during the time of resistance, the Cherokee people still were holding onto their way of life.

“We were determined to hold fast to our way of life and we were determined to have each other’s backs. We were all in it together,” Hoskin said. “Those who survived rebuilt, and we rebuilt right here.”

The first RTR ride took place in 1984 to honor those who walked to Indian Territory. In the 1800s, of the estimated 16,000 Cherokees removed from their original homelands, about 4,000 died due to exposure, starvation and disease along the way.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the first ride, commemorated by CN officials with a proclamation signing.

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