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Proud To Be Cherokee

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STRATFORD, Okla. (AP) _ Most people are proud of their heritage. They embrace their roots by listening to family stories and sharing these tales when they grow older. Many, however, fight to be recognized by their ancestors.

For Al McKay of Stratford, taking pride in his heritage has been a struggle and battle ever since he began to climb his family tree.

McKay is a Cherokee by blood, but not a recognized Cherokee because of where his ancestors located hundreds of years ago. Unlike the Oklahoma Cherokees that came by the Trail of Tears, McKay's ancestors stayed in Arkansas instead of heading to Oklahoma.

``You are Cherokee regardless of where you stayed,'' said McKay. He says the Cherokee tribe of Oklahoma will not recognize these lost Cherokees.

The Lost Cherokee of Arkansas and Missouri were formed and are in the process of trying to become federally recognized through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

McKay did not just want to be a recognized member of a tribe. It was more meaningful than that. He wanted to be an important part of his Cherokee heritage, so he became a councilman for the tribe, whose slogan is ``We hide no more.''

This saying has a lot of meaning for an unrecognized tribe. To McKay it means they will no longer be a nameless crowd, but a group brought together by common blood.

``If you have Indian blood, you have Indian blood. Period,'' he said.

To show his dedication to the Lost Cherokee of Arkansas and Missouri, McKay plans to run for headsman, a position much like that of a chief, in September of this year.

McKay said he decided he wanted to run for headsman because he truly believes in the cause. McKay considers himself an asset to the tribe because of his experience.

He served four years on the church board of New Beginnings Church at Stratford, and was instrumental in the building and growth of the church.

If elected headsman, McKay said he plans to remain active in the process of becoming a federally recognized tribe. He is also active on the Economic Development Team for the Lost Cherokee of Arkansas and Missouri. He has aided in the recent purchase of land at Prague and fully intends to assist in the building of a waste treatment center on the land, which will be a source of financial support for the tribe.

McKay is most interested in obtaining recognition for all the people of the Lost Cherokee so there will be educational opportunities for their children and grandchildren.

``I will probably never see the benefits from being federally recognized, but my grandkids will,'' he said.

He also wants medical care for the people of the Lost Cherokee tribe.

As councilman, McKay has been an influential part in the planning of a headquarters and ceremonial grounds to be built in Arkansas once the tribe is federally recognized.

McKay did explain that if the tribe was federally recognized and he was voted in as headsman, then he would relocate to Arkansas if need be.

``If I feel like, in my spirit, I need to be in another place then I will make that move without any hesitation,'' McKay said. ``The Bible says this is not our home. This is just a resting place, and I can rest any where.''
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