TAHELQUAH, Okla. – Nineteen Cherokee Indians are set to begin an annual 950-mile bicycle ride from Georgia to Oklahoma to commemorate the forced removal of Cherokees from the southeastern United States to Indian Territory, now known as Oklahoma.
Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma who are making the "Remember the Removal" ride gathered Friday in Cherokee, North Carolina, before leaving for Georgia for the start of the journey Sunday.
The annual ride, which began 30 years ago, is a leadership program offering Cherokee students a glimpse of what their ancestors faced when they made the same trek on foot in the late 1830s.
An estimated 4,000 of the approximately 16,000 Cherokees died of exposure, starvation and disease during the removal, known as the Trail of Tears, tribal officials said.
"The 'Remember the Removal' ride not only commemorates this important event in our people's history, it is an opportunity for our youth to learn more about our history," said Principal Chief Michell Hicks of the Eastern Band.
Riders will make stops at museums, gravesites, stockades, churches and other historic sites along the way, accompanied by Cherokee Nation tribal council member and Trail of Tears historian Jack Baker. The riders will also document their journey using personal video diaries.
The ride follows the northern route of the Trail of Tears. It begins Sunday in New Echota, Georgia, and is to end June 19 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the capital of the Cherokee Nation.
"These riders will live out an exceptional experience over the next three weeks that will bond them forever," said Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma Principal Chief Bill John Baker.
"It is physically demanding and can be emotionally draining, but completing the trip will be a spiritual reward in and of itself. Just as our ancestors were 175 years ago, these young Cherokee people will be responsible for each other on this journey," Baker added.
The riders will cross Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas before ending the journey in eastern Oklahoma.