It was 175 years ago the last group of Cherokees arrived in Tahlequah after walking on the Trail of Tears. On Monday, their memory was honored and their legacy celebrated.
Their faces, forged with sadness and determination, statues represent the nearly 16,000 Cherokees who were taken from their homes and marched 2,200 miles to what is now modern day Oklahoma.
Cherokee Citizen, Catherine Foreman-Gray, said, "And it's hard when you think about the challenges, what they had to overcome just on a daily basis."
Foreman-Gray has several ancestors who walked the Trail of Tears.
She said despite the hardships of being forced into stockades, stripped of everything they owned, and forced to walk across the country during a brutal winter, the Cherokees immediately formed a school system and government after arriving in Indian Territory.
"I think, historically and presently, it speaks to what is important to the Cherokee people, our government and education," said Foreman-Gray.
Chief Bill John Baker, with the Cherokee Nation, said, "175 years ago folks, that's not that long ago."
The Cherokee Nation paused Monday to mark the 175th anniversary of the arrival of the last group of Cherokees in Tahlequah from the Trail of Tears.
They unveiled a new painting to commemorate the anniversary and displayed publicly, for the first time, a petition from 1835 protesting the removal, including the signature of Principal Chief John Ross.
More than 600 Cherokees signed the petition, but it fell on deaf ears, and the tribe was forced from its homeland. A thousand died on the trail, mostly the very young and very old, and another 4000 died after, as a result of the long walk.
"They gave up the ultimate sacrifice," Baker said.
Their sacrifice is not lost all these years later. Foreman-Gray said it's important that everyone remember, and honor, those who had no choice but to leave everything they had behind.
"Especially Cherokees today, just take a moment, remember your ancestors who not only did not survive, but those who persevered and survived," Foreman-Gray said.
The tribe has a number of events planned for this summer to commemorate the 175th anniversary. Next week they'll be in Washington, D.C. along with members of the Eastern Band of the Cherokees and the United Keetoowah Band for a special exhibit at the Smithsonian.