Tetona Dunlap is a graduate student in journalism at the University of Montana. She is an enrolled member of the Eastern Shoshone tribe from the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.
The ride is called “Remember the Removal” and this is the second time the ride has taken place since its resurgence last year. The first ride took place in 1984.
On Wednesday, the group of 10 and four chaperones left by van for Georgia. They plan to bike from traditional Cherokee lands in New Echota, Georgia back to the Cherokee capital of Tahlequah, Oklahoma in 23 days, each day traveling around 40 to 70 miles.
This year’s participants represent eight different communities in Oklahoma and ranged in age from 16 to 36 years old. A panel interviewed each candidate to determine their interest and commitment. To prepare for the 1,000-mile ride, which includes bicycling over mountainous regions, participants spent the spring training as a group and individually.
Many of the riders say their reasons for participating are to learn more about their heritage by following in the footsteps of their ancestors. On the Cherokee Nation website there is a section dedicated to the ride. Viewers are encouraged to send messages of support and read blogs that will be written by the riders.
One rider, Bluebird Linville, 17, of Stilwell, Okla., said on the site that this experience would give him insight into what his ancestors endured.
“I feel that we Cherokees, mostly the youth, do not know the great loss and pain that our ancestors went through by losing their lands, homes, possessions, and their lives due to the removal. I know very little of the history myself, but since being at Sequoyah High School, I have learned more. This event would mean so much to me. I would be riding in the footsteps of our ancestors. It will not forget the experience, or the things I will see and learn along the way.”
Brooke Hudson, 19, of Claremore, Okla., wrote on the site, “The Remember the Removal Commemorative event is a way of reminding me of who I am and who had to sacrifice to help make me who I am today. It is important to me because I enjoy learning about my past and figuring out who I am as a young Native American woman.
Riders will stop and learn about the history of significant events that took place along the trail and surrounding areas.
In an article in the Muskogee Phoenix, Todd Enlow, group leader of Cherokee Nation Leadership, who also participated in the ride last year said, “There are three things you learn on this ride. First, you learn Cherokee history by experiencing it yourself; second, you learn your own family history; and third, you learn your strengths and abilities to go beyond what you think you can do.”
The Trail of Tears took place over the winter months of 1838 through 1839. An estimated 16,000 Cherokees were forced at gunpoint to trek across the present-day states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas. More than 4,000 Cherokees died on the Trail of Tears.
Organizers hope to not only educate the riders, but also promote awareness and inform people along the route about the Trail of Tears and the Cherokee nation.