The Cherokee Nation has re-upped its efforts to seat a treaty-mandated delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.
In 2019, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. nominated fellow Cherokee Nation citizen Kim Teehee to serve as the tribe’s first delegate. During a Rules Committee hearing Wednesday, Hoskin again called on the U.S. House to seat Teehee in accordance with the 1835 Treaty of New Echota.
During his testimony, Hoskin described the hearing as historic and said “treaties are binding commitments.”
“The Cherokee Nation delivered on its commitment long ago in land and lives. It is time for the United States to deliver on its promise,” said Hoskin. “We are grateful to Chairman McGovern and the members of the Rules Committee for holding this historic hearing. Now we’re asking the House of Representatives to take action and seat the Cherokee Nation’s delegate.”
Hoskin suggested to the committee that Teehee could be seated as early as this year by way of either a resolution or change in statute, and the committee's chairman, Massachusetts Democratic Rep. James McGovern, and other members supported the idea that it could be accomplished quickly.
“This can and should be done as quickly as possible," McGovern said. “The history of this country is a history of broken promise after broken promise to Native American communities. This cannot be another broken promise."
But McGovern and other committee members, including ranking member Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, acknowledged there are some questions that need to be resolved, including whether other Native American tribes are afforded similar rights and whether the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is the proper successor to the tribe that entered into the treaty with the U.S. government.
In the 1835 treaty, the Cherokee Nation was guaranteed “a voice in Congress” in exchange for land and being forced to move in what became “The Trail of Tears.” The treaty was signed into law by then President Andrew Jackson and remains in effect today.
McGovern said he has been contacted by officials with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the Delaware Nation, both of which have separate treaties with the U.S. government that call for some form of representation in Congress. McGovern also noted there also are two other federally recognized bands of Cherokee Indians that argue they should be considered successors to the 1835 treaty: the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians based in North Carolina, both of which reached out to his office.
The UKB selected its own congressional delegate, Oklahoma attorney Victoria Holland, in 2021. Holland said in an interview with The Associated Press that her tribe is a successor to the Cherokee Nation that signed the 1835 treaty, just like the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
“As such, we have equal rights under all the treaties with the Cherokee people and we should be treated as siblings," Holland said.
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The U.S. House can vote to seat Teehee on its own; no action would be required by the Biden Administration or the Senate, according to a press release from the Cherokee Nation that was circulated after the hearing.
Members of the committee seemed to be in agreement that any delegate from the Cherokee Nation would be similar to five other delegates from the District of Columbia, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands. These delegates are assigned to committees and can submit amendments to bills, but cannot vote on the floor for final passage of bills. Puerto Rico is represented by a non-voting resident commissioner who is elected every four years.
In support of the Cherokee Nation, U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, of New Mexico, said in a statement that she will continue to push for the United States to uphold and honor its trust and treaty responsibilities.
“For too long and for too many Tribal nations, the United States has failed to follow its own treaty obligations. This hearing is a step in the right direction but the commitment remains unfulfilled,” said Leger Fernández, who chairs the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States. “Seating Delegate Teehee in Congress would send a powerful message to every Tribe that the United States will honor its commitments to both Cherokee and all American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians.”
Throughout his testimony, Hoskin highlighted the history of the 1835 Treaty of New Echota and the manner in which Teehee would represent the tribe in her role. He cited the tribe’s delegate will act and function like other delegates in the House, like those from U.S. territories and Washington, DC.
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As aforementioned, Teehee was nominated by Hoskin in 2019. She was the first senior policy advisor for Native American affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Council under former President Barack Obama. From 2014-2019, Teehee was the Cherokee Nation’s vice president of government relations.
In the press release, President of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians Shannon Holsey, said seating Teehee would be a benefit to all of Indian Country.
“Democracies are healthiest when a range of voices are included in the process. It is time for the U.S. government to fulfill its treaty obligation,” Holsey said. “The Cherokee Nation’s delegate would be able to protect and amplify the interests of not only the Cherokee Nation but all Native Americans.”
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The Associated Press contributed to this report