The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma moved one step closer on Wednesday to fulfilling a promise made nearly 200 years ago that a tribal representative would sit in Congress.
Cherokee Nation Chief Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr was among those testifying before the US House Rules Committee, which is the first to examine the prospect of placing a Cherokee delegate in the US House. Hoskin, the elected leader of the 440,000-member tribe, kickstarted the effort in 2019 when he nominated Kimberly Teehee, a former adviser to Barack Obama, to the position. The tribal governing council then unanimously approved her.
The tribe’s right to a delegate is spelled out in the Treaty of New Echota, signed in 1835, which provided the legal basis for the forcible removal of the Cherokee Nation from its ancestral homelands east of the Mississippi River and led to the Trail of Tears, but never exercised it. A separate treaty in 1866 reaffirmed this right, Hoskin said.
“The Cherokee Nation has, in effect, honored our obligations under these treaties. I’m here to ask the United States to do the same,” Hoskin told the panel.
Hoskin suggested to the committee that Teehee could take the seat as early as this year through a resolution or amendment to the statute, and the committee’s chair, Massachusetts Democrat James McGovern, and other members supported the idea that it could soon are being reached.
“This can and should be done as soon as possible,” McGovern said. “The history of this country is one of broken promise after broken promise to Native American communities. This cannot be another broken promise.”
But McGovern and other committee members, including the leading member, Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, acknowledged that there are some questions that need to be resolved, including whether other Native American tribes will be granted similar rights and whether the Cherokee Nation or Oklahoma is the proper successor to the tribe that made the treaty with the US government.
McGovern said he has been approached by officials from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the Delaware Nation, both of which have separate treaties with the US government that require some form of representation in Congress. McGovern also noted that there were also two other federally recognized bands of Cherokee Indians that claim 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 whom contacted his office.
The UKB elected its own congressional delegate in 2021, Oklahoma lawyer Victoria Holland. Holland said in an interview with the Associated Press that her tribe is a successor to the Cherokee Nation that signed the 1835 treaty, as is the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
“As such, we have equal rights under all treaties with the Cherokee people and should be treated as siblings,” Holland said.
Committee members seemed to agree that each delegate from the Cherokee Nation would be comparable 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 table amendments to bills, but cannot vote on the spot for the final approval of bills. Puerto Rico is represented by a non-voting resident commissioner who is elected every four years.