TAHLEQUAH — Citing two treaties, officials with the Cherokee Nation formally called on Congress on Thursday to seat a nonvoting delegate from the country’s largest tribe.
Standing outside the tribe’s National History Museum, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. formally announced his nomination of Kimberly Teehee as the Cherokee Nation’s first delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.
The right to a congressional delegate is laid out in the tribe’s constitution and provisions in both the Treaty of Hopewell and Treaty of New Echota, which provided the basis for the Cherokees’ removal to what is now Oklahoma. If confirmed, Teehee would be the first delegate seated under the terms of those treaties.
“I firmly believe that the government of the United States ought to live up to its obligations under our treaties,” Hoskin said.
“We certainly take our treaties serious, and Cherokees always have ever since we’ve had a government-to-government relationship with the United States. This is a provision that we have not enforced, but just because we haven’t enforced it doesn’t mean that it is not valid and enforceable now.
“Today we’re in a position of strength, and we ought to be asserting our rights under our treaties. Our country is better if it keeps its promises, and I fully expect them to keep this promise they made to the Cherokee Nation.”
Teehee will go before the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council for confirmation on Thursday afternoon, first by the council’s Rules Committee, then by the full body at a special session. Beyond that, the timeline for if or when she will be seated as a nonvoting delegate is still unclear.
Should the tribe follow the same process used to seat the six nonvoting members of Congress from U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, the House of Representatives would have to formally vote to admit Teehee.
“First and foremost, it’s going to be a process where we educate,” she said. “There are examples out there. … We can look to the U.S. territories as a first step as to how we can get across that finish line.”
Hoskin said talks are underway with the state’s members of Congress and called on them to introduce legislation to seat her. On Monday night, U.S. Rep Tom Cole, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, questioned whether the treaties cited by the Hoskin administration are still valid.
“First of all, … there are no statutes of limitations on our treaties,” Teehee said. “Just because it’s an old document, it continues to live just like the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The provisions that we are exercising today have never been abrogated. They are still in full force and effect.”
U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, whose eastern Oklahoma district includes much of the Cherokee Nation’s counties, issued a statement saying, “Appointing a tribal member as a delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives is unprecedented and there are many unknowns ahead.
“As a member of the Cherokee Nation, I firmly believe tribal sovereignty and treaties must be honored by the federal government.”
Originally from Claremore and a graduate of both Northeastern State University and the University of Iowa College of Law, Teehee served as the first-ever senior policy adviser for Native American affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Council for three years during President Barack Obama’s administration. She is currently the vice president of government relations for Cherokee Nation Businesses and director of government relations for the Cherokee Nation.
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