Respect Equality

Cherokee Nation fights for delegate in Congress

Kimberly Teehee speaks in front of the flag of the Cherokee Nation
Kimberly Teehee speaks in front of the flag of the Cherokee Nation and the U.S. flag in Tahlequah, Okla. AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Story at a glance

  • In 1835, President Andrew Jackson signed the Treaty of New Echota, forcing thousands of Cherokee natives from their homeland in what today is known as The Trail of Tears. 

  • As part of the treaty, Cherokee Nation was promised a delegate in Congress, a promise that has gone unfulfilled for nearly two centuries. 

  • Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin is now calling on Congress to fulfill the treaty’s promise and seat Delegate-elect Kim Teehee. 

The Cherokee Nation is fighting to secure a delegate in the House that would honor a treaty agreement signed by President Andrew Jackson in 1835.  

The treaty promised federal representation for the tribe after thousands of Cherokees were relocated from their homeland to land west of the Mississippi River. Thousands died during this forced removal, an ugly history remembered as the Trail of Tears.  

The treaty, which was opposed by many of the Cherokee Nation, also gave the Cherokee Nation $5 million in exchange for seven million acres of ancestral land.  

“I ask the House of Representatives to honor this treaty right, fulfill its obligation under the treaty, and seat our delegate,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin said during Wednesday testimony before the House Rules Committee at a hearing on the prospect of seating a Cherokee delegate in the House. 

 “The Cherokee Nation has in fact adhered to our obligations under these treaties,” said Hoskin. “I’m here to ask the United States to do the same.” 

Hoskin in 2019 elected Kimberly Teehee to serve as the delegate.  

Teehee, director of government relations for Cherokee Nation and senior vice president of government relations for Cherokee Nation Businesses, previously worked in Washington, D.C., with an advocacy group representing Indian tribes and tribal organizations.  

She was also the first-ever senior policy advisor for Native American affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Council under former President Barack Obama. 

Seating Teehee, Hoskin said, “would be a historic victory for treaty rights. It would be a historic victory for the sovereignty of all Indian Tribes.”  

Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who was just elected to the U.S. Senate, urged Congress to fulfill the nearly two centuries’ old promise.  

“As a member of the Cherokee Nation, I firmly believe the federal government must honor its trust and treaty responsibilities to Indian Nations,” Mullin said in a Wednesday statement. “We are only as good as our word.” 

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, pointed out there are still questions that need to be addressed, such as if other tribes that have the right to have a delegate in Congress.  

Another issue, he said, is the possibility of double representation if constituents are represented by a member serving a state and a delegate from the tribe. Another question is if the arrangement is constitutional.  

But Cole added that he is “glad to see tribes advocating for their treaties with such conviction,” and that Wednesday’s hearing was a starting point in “recognizing tribal treaty rights.” 

“For far too long in our nation’s history, the federal government accumulated a sorry record of making promises to tribes and then breaking those promises as soon as it was expedient to do so,” said Cole. “Only in recent years has that record improved.” 

Hoskin said that if the U.S. is to keep its promise to his nation, it must get Teehee seated.  

“If that’s the case, and if we recognize that the treaty is the supreme law of the land and carries the weight of law, then I think the Congress is duty-bound to seat Kim Teehee,” he said. “I know there’s questions about the manner in which she’s seated – very good questions raised today – but I think the conclusion is inescapable, and I think that conclusion can be reached in this calendar year and it is my hope as chief of the Cherokee Nation that we achieve that.”