Cherokee Nation announced its intention to send a delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives on Sept. 17, 2019. Since then, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. says he has met with a handful of lawmakers in Washington D.C., including Oklahoma Representatives Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“All of those meetings were very encouraging because the questions that were posed were not posed in a manner to suggest that we shouldn't be able to do this,” Hoskin said. “It was a question of how would we get it done?”
The tribe nominated former Obama advisor Kim Teehee to fill that position, and Hoskin says there are two options for seating her. It could be accomplished by changing House rules, but that could be easily undone. The other option is for Congress to pass a law like it has done for delegates from U.S. territories like Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands.
“I do think the permanency of that has an appeal, but we're not ruling out either of those options,” Hoskin said.
The 1835 Treaty of New Echota, which also led to the Trail of Tears, says Cherokee Nation “shall be entitled to a delegate in the House of Representatives of the United States whenever Congress shall make provision for the same.”
As a delegate, Teehee would not be able to cast votes on the House floor, but she could introduce legislation, offer amendments and vote in committee. She would represent Cherokee Nation, but there is also a sense that her presence on capitol hill would benefit all tribes.
“Cherokee Nation has historically been a leader on issues in Indian Country, so I think we should continue to fill that leadership role,” Hoskin said. “The other thing is that Indian Country is better off when we achieve some level of solidarity. On so many issues we're really all in it together.”
Hoskin also thinks Teehee’s position will raise awareness about tribal sovereignty amongst the general public.
Representatives Cole and Mullin confirmed the meetings with representatives of Cherokee Nation, as did Speaker Pelosi. But it’s unclear if or when they will take action.
“After reviewing the specific language in the relevant 1835 treaty, I believe there is no question that the Cherokee Nation has a legitimate case to make,” Cole said in a statement. “However, members on both sides of the aisle will have to be educated and consulted. Moreover, there are still serious questions about how to proceed and if any additional requirements must be met.”
Mullin pointed out that appointing a tribal delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives is unprecedented, while voicing support for treaty rights and sovereignty.
“As a member of the Cherokee Nation, I firmly believe tribal sovereignty and treaties must be honored by the federal government,” Mullin said.
Pelosi’s Chief of Staff, Drew Hammill, also said it is important for Congress to honor treaty rights.
“House Democrats stand committed to not only righting the injustices of history, but also to honoring tribal sovereignty and working with Native nations to advance justice, prosperity and hope,” Hammill said.
Hoskin hopes to see Teehee in Congress by next fall.