By Chesley Oxendine
More than 70 people gathered Friday at the Fort Gibson Historic Site to welcome home riders from the “Ocmulgee to Okmulgee” bike ride.
Fort Gibson was their last stop before heading into Okmulgee on Saturday night for the Muscogee Creek Nation’s annual festival.
The special location of the last stop is symbolic, said Muscogee Creek Nation Museum and Cultural Center Assistant Director Justin Giles.
“This is our Ellis Island,” he said to the crowd. “U.S. soldiers stopped us here and gave us new names, and said welcome to Indian Territory. This was the census to find out who survived the trip.”
Muscogee Creek Nation Principal Chief George Tiger was among the welcoming committee, praying over the safely returned riders.
“Today, we recognize our survival,” he said during his prayer, which he spoke in both English and Muskogee languages.
The ride followed the path of the Nation’s ancestral removal from the Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon, Ga., to Okmulgee, Okla.
Riders included Muscogee Creek Nation Museum and Cultural Center Director John Beaver, Giles and Marine veteran Andrew Lowe.
They were joined Thursday by members of the Yuchi tribe, led by Director for the Yuchi Language Project Richard Grounds.
“We came through to get a message to our kids,” Grounds said. “We wanted to tell them to be active and healthy.”
Giles said the ride, which began June 2 and stopped at historic sites along the way, was a method of “telling our side of the story.”
“We’re getting the Muscogee voice out there,” he said. “This is about education. This is making sure our youth know where we came from and where we were going.”
Tiger said he traveled to Georgia to see the cyclists start their ride.
“It was very emotional to be in our ancestral homelands,” he said. “This was the darkest period in our history.”
Giles said the trip was trying — including a brief return home for Lowe because of work — but their purpose drove them.
“We relied on prayer, family, culture and tradition, and that’s what got us through,” he said.
Beaver said after the journey he felt he had two homes: His family home and his ancestral one.
“I have mixed emotions,” he said. “I grew up in Muskogee, but Georgia’s where my ancestors are from. It’s just great to be back amongst family and friends.”
Beaver wasn’t alone in his emotional return home — fellow rider Lowe said he was affected as well.
“I’ve never been so moved in my life,” Lowe said “You just don’t know how it feels.”
For more on the tour, including photos and blog posts, visit http://okmulgee2okmulgee.com.
By Chesley Oxendine
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