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 Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin 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, initiated the effort in 2019 when he nominated Kimberly Teehee, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, for the position. The tribal governing council then unanimously approved her.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described Thursday’s hearing as an “important first step in determining what actions need to be taken to fulfill this long-standing commitment.”
“The House Democratic Caucus will continue to explore a path to welcoming a delegate from the Cherokee Nation to the People’s House,” Pelosi said in a statement.
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 an amendment to the statute, and the committee chair, Massachusetts Democratic Rep. James McGovern, and other members supported the idea that this could be achieved quickly. .
“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 Oklahoma senior member Tom Cole, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, acknowledged there are some questions that need to be resolved, including whether other Native American tribes will be granted similar rights and whether Oklahoma’s Cherokee Nation is the right one. successor of 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 are also two other federally recognized groups 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 Oklahoma. Carolina, both reaching for his office.
The UKB elected 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, 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.
Only a few Native Americans serve in Congress, including Cole and U.S. Representative Markwayne Mullin, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who was elected earlier this month to the U.S. Senate, where he will become the first Indian in that body in nearly 20 years.
“As a member of the Cherokee Nation, I firmly believe that the Federal Government must live up to its trust and treaty responsibilities to the Indian nations,” Mullin said in a statement. “We are only as good as our word.”
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.