The Cherokee Nation is the largest Native American tribal group in the United States, and is a sovereign nation by law, with its own government and land. Under the 1835 Treaty of New Echota, the Cherokee “shall be entitled to a delegate in the House of Representatives in the United States whenever Congress shall make provision for the same.”
Has Congress made provision for a representative? Yes or no, the Cherokee Nation has chosen Kimberly Teehee for the position. She could become the 6th non-voting member of Congress, along with the representatives of Puerto Rico and the other U.S. territories.
The Hopewell Treaty of 1785 makes it even more clear that the Cherokee have the right to send a delegate, but less clear what role the delegate will play. Article 12 reads, “That the Indians may have full confidence in the justice of the United States, respecting their interests, they shall have the right to send a deputy of their choice, whenever they think fit, to Congress.”
The Cherokee Constitution refers to this right:
“In accordance with Article 12 of the Treaty with the Cherokees, dated November 28, 1785 (Treaty of Hopewell), and Article 7 of the Treaty with the Cherokees dated December 29, 1835 (Treaty of New Echota), there shall be created the office of Delegate to the United States House of Representatives, appointed by the Principal Chief and confirmed by the Council.”
The new Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Chuck Hoskin, said, “Kim Teehee has worked for years advocating in Congress, on a bi-partisan basis, for the interests of Cherokee Nation and is supremely qualified for this post. We are eager to take the recommendation before the Council of the Cherokee Nation and work with our Congressional delegation from Oklahoma to move this historic appointment forward.”
The Cherokee Nation has never before sent a delegate to Congress.
Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma questioned whether the treaties are still in force. Cole is a member of the Chickasaw Nation.
Statehood for both Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. have been part of the national conversation recently, and awareness of the role of non-voting members of Congress has been on the rise. Perhaps this has motivated the Cherokee Nation to act on their right to a delegate.