Cherokee Nation Wants Representation in Congress

August 29, 2019 Updated: August 29, 2019

The Cherokee Nation has announced that it wants the United States government to uphold the 1835 Treaty of New Echota, which promised them representation in congress.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. announced on Aug. 22 that the tribe is enacting the Cherokee Nation’s treaty right to send a delegate to the U.S. Congress.

The 200-year-old treaty forced the Cherokee from the southeastern United States into what is now Oklahoma, with the forced relocations ultimately becoming known as the Trail of Tears. A congressional delegate is one form of compensation the federal government promised.

According to the Cherokee Nation website, currently it is the largest tribe in the United States with more than 370,000 tribal citizens worldwide. More than 141,000 Cherokee Nation citizens reside within the 14-county tribal jurisdictional area that covers most of northeastern Oklahoma.

Chief Hoskin said in a statement: “A Cherokee Nation, we are exercising our treaty rights and strengthening our sovereignty. We know this is just the beginning and there is much work ahead, but we are being thorough in terms of implementation and ask our leaders in Washington to work with us through this process and on legislation that provides the Cherokee Nation with the delegate to which we are lawfully entitled.”

He added: “The Cherokee Nation honors its treaties with the United States. Whether the United States will likewise honor its promises to the Cherokee Nation is a question that only its elected leaders can answer.”

Hoskin announced his choice for delegate to congress, Kim Teehee, the tribe’s current vice president of government relations. Teehee’s nomination must be confirmed by the Council of the Cherokee Nation at a special meeting Aug. 29.

“This is a historic moment for Cherokee Nation and our citizens. I am truly humbled Chief Hoskin has nominated me for this extraordinary responsibility,” Teehee said. “A Cherokee Nation delegate to Congress is a negotiated right that our ancestors advocated for, and today, our tribal nation is stronger than ever and ready to defend all our constitutional and treaty rights. It’s just as important in 2019 as it was in our three treaties.”

Hoskin said the Nation would use the existing nonvoting members representing U.S. territories and Washington, D.C., as a model given that the treaty does not state whether the delegate has voting power.

Hoskin said even though the delegates do not get a vote on the House floor, this could make space for the Cherokee delegate to be a voice for issues important to the Cherokee Nation and Native Americans because they have the power to introduce bills and vote in committee.

To move the appointment forward, Teehee said they will continue to work with Oklahoma House of Representatives.

According to Hoskin, after the council of the Cherokee Nation confirms Teehee, the U.S. Congress will need to take legislative action. The tribe plans to continue working with Oklahoma’s representatives in the House to move Teehee’s nomination forward.

According to Ezra Rosser, a law professor at American University, the Cherokee Nation could face some specific challenges to the delegate question.

Rosser wrote in the Boston University Public Interest Law Journal in 2005: “Who is and is not represented by the Cherokee delegate is a complex question that could prevent the Cherokee Nation from moving forward on their delegate right and/or getting their own delegate. The major challenges are (1) defining which Cherokee people have a delegate right, (2) handling other tribes’ opposition, (3) downside risks of delegate representation, and (4) deciding whether the delegate represents the Cherokee Nation or the Cherokee people.”

Hoskin made it clear that even though getting congressional representation was going to be a long process, they were up for the challenge.

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