‘Remember the Removal’ ride retraces Trail of Tears

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 141 views 

Taylor Alsenay was just a teenager when he participated in the first Remember the Removal bike ride in 1984. He continues the tradition this year as he is a ride leader for the event, happening now through June 21. The ride comes to Arkansas June 19 and 20.

“It is not about getting to the finish line first, it’s about working together as a tribe to accomplish this goal,” he said.

The Remember the Removal event features dozens of bikers from the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and Eastern Band of Cherokees who travel one of several routes that their ancestors took 175 years ago during the Trail of Tears. The students will travel more than 950 miles on bike. Instead of being forced to leave their home on foot, these young people choose to ride their bikes to honor their ancestors and bring awareness to the history.

Of the estimated 16,000 Cherokees forced to make the journey to Indian Territory, an estimated 4,000 died due to exposure, starvation and disease, according to a press release.

“These men and women will retrace our tribal nation’s route to Oklahoma – from our ancestral homelands in the east to our current capital city,” said Principal Chief Bill John Baker in a press release. “It will be a personal and life-changing journey for them. As a student of history, and specifically Cherokee history, I am envious of the journey they are undertaking and the understanding they will attain by traveling the route of removal.”

Alsenay already notices many changes between his experience in 1984 and the more recent bike rides. Instead of being scorned along the way, residents of the cities they visit now reach out to the riders and offer refreshments and encouragement. Changing attitudes and the ability to follow the ride on social media has helped foster that change, he said.

The riders also have a stronger sense of pride in what they are accomplishing.

“People are taking pride I being Native now,” he said. “These young folks chose to do this to honor their ancestors.”

Part of the ride will take the students through the Pea Ridge National Military Park. Park officials were not available for comment Thursday afternoon.

Although the Remember the Removal riders will not go through Fort Smith, one of the trails that the Choctaw tribe followed during the Trail of Tears runs through that area along the Arkansas River, said Jeremy Lynch, park ranger at the National Historic Site-Fort Smith.

“It’s for the Native Americans to remember the struggles of their ancestors and to honor the survivors,” he said.

Lynch said the ride is a good reminder for all people, regardless of Native status.
“It’s about remembering the past so that we don’t repeat it,” he said. “We don’t want to do (the Trail of Tears atrocities) again.”