So, this was about 15 or 20 years ago. Jack Baker, Troy Petit, and I decided that running the Trail of Tears would be a significant undertaking. We planned to run from New Echota to Town Park. While we were getting on top of Monteagle in Tennessee—a big, steep hill—Troy’s turban came unwound, he got stuck in the ditch, and Jack didn’t have any smokes. Troy tripped, fell into the ditch, and I had to give him mouth-to-mouth. It was a bad situation. We then decided to let the younger people handle this, and I suggested that maybe it would be easier if they did it by bicycle. That’s how it all got started.

Today, we have a wonderful panel of folks who are going to talk about their experiences on the Trail of Tears. This highlights the Trail of Tears Association’s efforts to be inclusive of all tribes. I’m particularly pleased to see them today. Our panelists are John Beaver from the Creek Nation, Sara from the Cherokee Nation, and Billy Eagle Roam from the Choctaw Nation. Each will speak for 15 or 20 minutes, and if they start rambling, I’ll give them a sign or tell them to stop. After their talks, we’ll have time for questions, so please hold your questions until the end.

Speaker 2: Sara

Hello everyone. My name is Sara, and I’m from Vian, Oklahoma. I currently work at the Cherokee Immersion Charter School in Oklahoma. I first started the bike ride when I was 19 years old. A friend who was helping Todd N. Lowe with the program asked if I wanted to join, mentioning that my mother did it back in ’84. Initially hesitant about the 2,000-mile ride, I consulted my mother. She encouraged me, saying it’s about the time and effort you put into it.

We trained for about three weeks before leaving on June 29. The first week of training was manageable, and I started with ten miles, gradually increasing to 25 and then 50 miles. The first day of the journey from New Echota was daunting, especially with the heat and hills. I doubted my ability to keep up with the others. Todd N. Lowe reminded me that my ancestors faced much harsher conditions, with uncertainty about food and shelter. This realization motivated me to continue, understanding that I was doing this for my people and myself.

The ride was challenging, especially as the only female among seven men. However, it became a journey of self-discovery and cultural reconnection. Over the years, I’ve mentored other riders, helping them connect with their heritage. This experience has been transformative, helping me return to school and remember where I came from. It’s crucial to never forget our history, and this ride binds us together as a people. Thank you.

Speaker 3: John Beaver

Good morning. My name is John Beaver, and I’m from the Muscogee Creek Nation. I’m currently the director and curator of our art museum program. Last year, we developed a ride called “Pothoukee to Mvskoke,” which means “from the Mounds to Mvskoke,” acknowledging our ancestors’ journey from Georgia and Alabama to Oklahoma.

We began at the Ocmulgee Mounds to honor our Mississippian mound culture heritage. The ride was less about exact historical accuracy and more about educating and connecting with our history. We partnered with the National Park Service and various historical commissions in Georgia and Alabama.

The ride was not without its challenges. There were physical dangers, especially on highways. We faced long days, riding 15 to 70 miles daily. We wanted to convey that while we are no longer in Georgia and Alabama, our history there remains vital.

The journey was emotional, especially upon reaching Fort Gibson, a significant site during the removal. Despite the negative connotations, our ride symbolized survival and resilience. We survived, and that’s why we’re here today. Thank you.

Speaker 4: Billy Eagle Roam

Hello, my name is Billy Eagle Roam, and I work with the Choctaw Nation’s Cultural Services Department. Reflecting on my first ride last May, I remember how Nancy Jefferson, who worked in the ER at the Choctaw Nation Hospital, inspired it. She read her great-great-grandmother’s journal detailing their journey on the Trail of Tears and decided to honor her by running the same route. We expanded this idea to include more people.

We received funding through the diabetes and going green programs, emphasizing physical fitness and environmental benefits. Training was rigorous, and we had over 18 participants from various areas, including someone from California.

Our journey began in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The first day was challenging with cold and rain. My siblings and I joined, and despite the weather, we pushed through. Throughout the journey, we faced physical challenges and injuries, but we were motivated by the thought of our ancestors’ hardships.

We rode through various towns, often facing difficult terrain and weather. The experience was grueling but fulfilling, knowing we were honoring our ancestors. The sense of accomplishment upon completing the ride was immense.

The second year’s ride took a northern route through Arkansas to Fort Smith and finally to our destination in Oklahoma. Training was better, and the ride was smoother. This journey reminded us of our ancestors’ resilience and strength, inspiring us to continue honoring them through these rides. Thank you.

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Paul Austin – Bike Riders Panel – 2013 TOTA Conference

So, this was about 15 or 20 years ago. Jack Baker, Troy Petit, and I decided that running the Trail of Tears would be a significant undertaking. We planned to run from New Echota to Town Park. While we were getting on top of Monteagle in Tennessee—a big, steep hill—Troy’s

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