Cherokee Nation Prepares Vote On Its First Congressional Delegate

August 29, 2019by Eleanor Van Buren
U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — The Council of the Cherokee Nation is expected to endorse its first ever delegate to Congress when the tribal nation’s governing body meets Thursday.

The tribe’s newly elected principal chief, Chuck Hoskin Jr., has named Kim Teehee as the potential delegate, a position the tribe says will honor U.S. treaty obligations that precede Oklahoma statehood in 1907 — when Cherokees became state citizens.

“We know this is just the beginning and there is much work ahead, but we … 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,” Hoskin said, citing provisions in the tribe’s nearly 200-year-old treaties with the federal government.

Teehee is the vice president of government relations for the Cherokee Nation. She served as a senior adviser on Native American issues for former Democratic Rep. Dale Kildee of Michigan for over a decade before advising President Barack Obama during his administration in a similar role.

She cites a strong relationship between the Cherokee Nation and the Oklahoma congressional delegation as they work toward congressional authorization for a new U.S. territory seat.

Specifically, she said she is working with Oklahoma Republican Markwayne Mullin, a Cherokee citizen who represents the tribe in his district, and Republican Tom Cole, a Chickasaw Nation citizen who serves as co-chairman of the Congressional Native American Caucus for the 116th Congress, on the process of authorizing a new seat in the state’s delegation.

“We have great relationships with people who have historically been allies to Indian Country, and I would be honored to sit at the table with them,” Teehee told CQ Roll Call.

If Teehee is eventually seated, she would join Reps. Sharice Davids, D-Kan., and Deb Haaland, D-N.M., as women enrolled in federally recognized tribes to serve in Congress.

The Cherokee Nation’s right to appoint a delegate is referenced in the 1835 Treaty of New Echota, which gave the Cherokees $5 million and land in present-day Oklahoma in exchange for 7 million acres of ancestral land in North Carolina. Many in the tribe perished during the 1,200 trek to Oklahoma, which lasted six months and is known as the “Trail of Tears.”

“Knowing that we have a treaty right here, we will work collaboratively on what provisions would look like to authorize a seat in the House of Representatives,” said Teehee. “And I wouldn’t rule out if there’s a possibility to do this administratively … given that our treaty of 1835 and 1866 were ratified by the Senate.”

“While I have not reviewed the 1835 treaty language myself, I have great respect for the Cherokee Nation and take any case they make seriously,” Cole said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. “At this point, there are a lot of unknowns. But I look forward to engaging with them and learning more about this issue in the weeks and months ahead.”

Following the conclusion of the U.S. Civil War, the 1866 treaty reaffirmed the provisions contained in previous U.S.-Cherokee Nation treaties — in particular, the 1835 treaty that states that Cherokee Nation shall be entitled to a delegate.

In 1999, Cherokee Nation voted to uphold the provisions within the U.S.-Cherokee Nation treaties at the tribe’s constitutional convention, where Hoskin was one of the convention’s members.

“Those old provisions still live, much like the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights lives on,” Teehee said. “It makes sense that today, Chief Hoskin would nominate a delegate to the House of Representatives in fulfillment of our portion of that agreement and the treaty.”

Northern Mariana Islands was the most recent U.S. territory to add a delegate to Congress — Delegate Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan joined the House in the 111th Congress.

It is not yet clear what legislation allowing the delegate to be seated would look like or what the role of the delegate would be.

In the 116th Congress, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia are each represented in Congress by a delegate, while Puerto Rico is represented by a resident commissioner. The delegates enjoy many, but not all, of the powers and privileges of House members from the states. The delegates cannot vote on the House floor, but they can introduce legislation, vote in committees and engage in debate.

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