The Cherokee Nation intends to exercise 200-year-old treaty provisions that allow it to appoint a delegate to Congress, tribal officials confirmed Monday.
“As native issues continue to rise to the forefront of the national dialogue, now is the time for the Cherokee Nation to execute a provision in our treaties,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “It’s a right negotiated by our ancestors, reaffirmed in two treaties with the federal government and reflected in our constitution.”
Hoskin has called a press conference for Thursday to outline his proposal to name Kim Teehee, the tribe’s vice president for government affairs, as the Cherokees’ congressional delegate.
The Cherokee Tribal Council is expected to act on Hoskin’s recommendation next week.
In theory, the nonvoting delegate would have the same status as delegates from the District of Columbia and U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico and Guam.
Although many people have represented the Cherokees in Washington since the late 1700s, the tribe says none has ever acted as a congressional delegate.
In practice, the tribe could be months or years away from actually seating a delegate.
“The announcement this week is simply the first step in a long process of having a Cherokee Nation (delegate) seated as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Hoskin.
Tribal officials say treaties of 1785 and 1835 provided for Cherokee representation in Congress. That provision is included in the Cherokee Constitution of 2003.
The legal and procedural pathway to acceptance of a delegate in the U.S. House is unclear, as is the Oklahoma delegation’s attitude toward it.
Second District Congressman Markwayne Mullin, a Cherokee citizen who represents most of the nation’s home territory, could not be reached for comment Monday.
Teehee was an Indian affairs adviser to President Barack Obama and held several other positions in Washington before returning to Oklahoma in 2014.
Fourth District Congressman Tom Cole said the full House would likely have to approve any such change to its membership. “There’s a lot of questions that have to be answered,” Cole said before a town hall meeting Monday night.
“Number one, I don’t know that the treaty still is valid. They’re basing it on something that is 185 years ago.”
Editor's note: This story was edited after publication to add a response from U.S. Rep. Tom Cole.
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