Cherokee bike riders travel through Missouri to commemorate the Trail of Tears
Each year, a group of young members of the Cherokee Tribes gets on bikes and retraces the Trail of Tears their ancestors traveled when relocated by the U.S. government almost 100 years ago. They hope to bring more understanding and acknowledgement of the tragic event.
The Trail of Tears was a government ethnic cleansing that forced displacement of five indigenous tribes from their homes in the southeastern U.S. to reservations in current-day Oklahoma from 1830 to 1850. The federal government made 60,000 people march hundreds of miles, and many died along the way.
Young members of the Cherokee Nation and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians take a three-week bike ride each year, retracing their ancestors' steps. The Remember the Removal ride is currently going through southern Missouri.
St. Louis Public Radio’s Jonathan Ahl caught up with the riders at a stop in Steelville in Crawford County on Thursday night. He asked some of the riders for their reflections on their trip so far.
Faith Springwater, 19, of Tahlequah, Oklahoma: Personally, I have a lot of ancestors that walked the trail. So it's just so meaningful to me to get to see a small glimpse of the trials and tribulations that they faced, and just to be a leader to the youth underneath me and the Cherokee Nation.
I think it's just honestly crazy to see where our ancestors came from, and just to remember where we came from and that we are still here, just seeing how resilient our Cherokee ancestors were. I think when we were in Port Royal in Tennessee, we got to walk like the grounds exactly where our ancestors walked. So that was pretty moving.
When I get back home, I will be able to give lots of information to people and get to teach them a lot that we learned because I didn't know a lot of this stuff myself. And just growing up not in a cultural traditional home, I guess I would say just getting to take some of this back home and teach the youth and even my family itself about this.
Nelson Lambert, 34, Birdtown Community, North Carolina: The world we're living in, it's very fast-paced in terms of technology. We need everything instantaneously. But what's great about this ride is we're able to take time to just kind of slow down and get back to a way of transportation of riding on a bicycle to really have time to think and reflect. Having these stops are very important to me.
We stopped in Cooperstown, Kentucky. They had a big breakfast for us, and some of the town came out, the city, the police. I had a group of people sitting with me at my table and I was just sharing what I've learned in our training up to this point because it's not just about the bicycle, it's about learning about our genealogy about our ancestors, family history, and about learning about the history itself of our people. So being able to share that was a really, really cool time for me. They listened intently, and I appreciated that.
Kenzie Snell, 19, of Park Hill, Oklahoma: It's been very emotional, and it's definitely been very challenging. Not just physically, it's been very challenging mentally as well. But as far as history and culture, we've just learned so much, and being able to go to places that you've read about in books and we were taught during our training has been very cool. It's like putting a face to a name. That's been very emotional for sure.
Blythe Ferry in Tennessee was definitely my favorite place and the most emotional for me because the first time I went there, I didn't have my genealogy to where I knew exactly what family members had been there. Like what names on the monument were related to me. So for me going this time and having that list and being able to see that I had so many people that passed through here. That was pretty emotional for me just seeing how much I've learned and feeling how much more connected I am. There was a guy there that let us ride his pontoon across the river, kind of symbolic of our ancestors being ferried across. So I thought that was pretty cool too.
A lot of people will say the Trail of Tears isn't my history. So that's why we didn't learn about it in school. But it is, it's everybody's history, whether you're Cherokee, Choctaw or not Native at all because it's American history. So I think that's why it's important that more people should talk about it. And I seriously remember reading a paragraph about it in school and that was it. It was like one paragraph. And I thought, “Oh, that's bad. Why are we not talking about that?” Even as a fifth grader? I understood that it needed to be talked about more.
The riders left New Echota, Georgia, the former capital of the Cherokee Nation, on June 5. Their journey will continue through Missouri and Arkansas over the weekend and end in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, on Tuesday.
Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.