Many teens spend the summer between high school and college working, not Emma Swendsen, a 17-year-old from Kentucky. She has decided to retrace the Trail of Tears hoping to gain insight into the plight of the Native Americans who were forced to relocated in the 1800s.
“I’ve been through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois…” Swendsen told KY3 on June 4 when she was in Missouri.
At the time she had yet to go through Arkansas and Oklahoma. When she completes her summer trek, she will have traveled 813 miles on horseback.
But she’s not on this journey for fun, she’s on it to learn about her country’s tragic past.
“We were learning about the Violence Against Women and Children’s Act [sic] and it was being argued whether or not to close a loophole that excluded Native American and Hispanic women,” Swendsen told KY3. “A few lawmakers didn’t want to close the loophole and extend the same protections, and in my mind it was just repeating history. I feel like we have done this before so why are we doing it again.”
This got her thinking about taking the Trail of Tears journey and thinking about how far the country has come.
At first she was traveling by herself, with just her horse and pup to keep her company. She sleeps in public parks or asks for permission to sleep on private property. Halfway through her trip, the Cherokee Nation connected her with a volunteer to travel with her by car.
Even still, the trip has not been a cheap one. “I’ve probably burned about $3,000 on food, supplies, and then transportation supplies. My family was coming out and having to re-supply my stuff before I got connected with the volunteer,” Swendsen told KY3. That number would be far higher if not for good Samaritans donating food for her dog and horse.
“It’s well worth it because it’s not something you can buy—the experience,” she told KY3. “My generation will eventually have to grow up and take over this country and if we don’t remember our own history and we are so focused on other countries then how are we supposed to take over our own country.”
Swendsen isn’t the only one traveling the Trail of Tears this summer. The Remember the Removal Riders are in Missouri currently. Keep track of them on their Facebook page.