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Joaqlin Estus
Indian Country Today

The Cherokee Nation plans to send the first delegate of a tribal nation to Congress.

The Harvard Institute of Politics on Wednesday hosted a conversation between the tribe's nominee, Kimberly Teehee, and Andrew Lee, Seneca, who serves on the board of governors with Harvard’s Honoring Nations Awards, an American Indian economic development program.

Lee noted the significance of the nearly 370 treaties signed between U.S. commissions and tribal leaders from 1777 to 1868. “They represented promises made by the United States to Indian nations, and they obviously carry great moral, legal and historical weight,” he said.

The Cherokee Nation is holding the U.S. to one of those promises by choosing Teehee as its first delegate to Congress. Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. announced her nomination last summer. 

“With the unanimous support of the council of the Cherokee Nation, I have named Kim Teehee as the first Cherokee Nation delegate to the House of Representatives,” he said at a National Congress of American Indians convention. “Seating Kim Teehee will not only give the Cherokee Nation a strong voice in Washington, D.C., it will give all of Indian Country a strong voice in Washington, D.C.”

The House still needs to vote to seat Teehee, who would serve as a non-voting delegate similar to those representing Washington, D.C, and the U.S. territories. Such action typically is taken after a new Congress is seated.

If accepted, Teehee said she will work to change policy. Her top priorities all have to do with funding, both immediate and long-term.

“We need more COVID dollars,” she said. “Congress needs to pass another stimulus package, and we need more dollars.”

She said tribes need the deadline for spending the first COVID-19 relief funding to be removed.

Also, “we need flexibility on how we use that money.”


“The restrictions that Treasury keeps putting on are stymying our ability to really respond in a real impactful way,” Teehee said. “I told you some of the innovative things that we're doing with our dollars. But man … there are other tribes that are struggling.”

Another needed change Teehee cited has to do with the allocation of funds to tribes. The Cherokee Nation receives a majority of its money from the federal government.

“These are real dollars coming from the trust responsibility … the government owes us that money, right? That's its responsibility,” she said.

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“But if the government shuts down on Dec. 11 [which happens when Congress fails to pass a resolution to continue funding], you know, that means that the poorest of the poor tribes are going to suffer. That means our healthcare delivery systems, our law enforcement, public safety systems are stymied unless the tribe has their own independent non-federal dollars to fund those things.”

Teehee said either advanced appropriations or mandatory, rather than discretionary, funding is critically needed.

“Indian Country deserves to have funding to be mandatory funded the way Social Security is mandatory funded, the way the SNAP program, which is a food stamp program, is mandatory funded.”

See related story: Kim Teehee is the one woman show

Teehee said she also expects to spend time educating members of Congress on the special relationship between the United States and tribal nations. Recent efforts to disestablish reservations are deeply concerning, and based in large part on misunderstanding, she said.

Teehee worked in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2012 as the senior policy advisor for Native American Affairs on the Domestic Policy Council.

In 1998, she served as senior advisor to Democratic U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee of Michigan, a co-chair of the Native American Caucus in the House.

She was the first deputy director of Native American outreach for the Democratic National Committee and director of Native American outreach for President Bill Clinton's 1997 inauguration.

She’s worked as a lobbyist to protect tribal sovereignty. And she’s worked for the Cherokee Nation, where her mentor was the first woman to serve as principal chief, Wilma Mankiller.

In February, Time Magazine named Teehee one of the 16 top activists fighting for a "More Equal America." 

The Cherokee Nation delegate is referenced in both the Treaty of Hopewell from 1785 and the Treaty of New Echota from 1835, the tribe said previously in a release.

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Joaqlin Estus, Tlingit, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today, and a long-time Alaska journalist.

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