TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma – In its ongoing bid to ensure the federal government honors a 200-year-old treaty, the nation's largest indigenous tribe is awaiting a decision on whether its delegate to Congress will be seated.
Kimberly Teehee was named Cherokee Nation’s first delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2019.
“The time for Congress to seat Kim Teehee is now. Treaty promises made to the Cherokee Nation must be kept. As delegate, she will be a champion for the Cherokee Nation, and an advocate for all Native American issues,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “I am encouraged at the prospect of a hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives later this month. It shows our bipartisan effort to advance this issue in Congress is working.”
Teehee, who is also director of Government Relations for Cherokee Nation and senior vice president of Government Relations Cherokee Nation Businesses, explained the importance of the delegacy to her tribe and others.
“It would give the Cherokee Nation a seat at the table when formulating laws affecting us,” said Teehee. “We have similar priorities to other tribes, so it would also give other tribes a seat at the table.”
Teehee said the approval would also show the U.S. keeps its word and honors the promises it made in the 1835 Treaty of New Echota.
This pact led to the forced removal of the Cherokee people from their homelands to Indian Territory via the Trail of Tears in the late 1830s.
“It would be small measure of justice for those who lost their lives on a forced march,” said Teehee.
Teehee said her position as a non-voting delegate would be similar to those of U.S. territories, like American Samoa and Guam, who can serve and vote on committees.
“You just could not vote for final passage on the House floor,” she said.
Teehee’s first goal as delegate is to get seated. While the Cherokee Nation has similar priorities to other tribal nations, with funding needs for public safety and connectivity, Teehee said the tribe is also unique and has goals like preserving its language in mind.
‘We have a bill pending right now — the Durbin Feeling Native American Language Act,” she said. “That is certainly something I would pick back up.”
Teehee said Cherokee Nation wants a hearing and a vote to take place this year. She does not see any roadblocks to her approval, although she said the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on the effort, as did a lack of education on the subject.
“We’ve got resources now, relationships in the House now, bipartisan support,” she said. “We felt we’ve rebuilt the nation and feel like have the right to reassert the treaty.”
Teehee said the Cherokee Nation has undertaken a mobilization effort to seat its delegate and is urging people to go to cherokeedelegate.com, where they can enter their information and send a email to their member of Congress.
A member of the United Keetoowah Band of Indians in Oklahoma contacted the Daily Press late Thursday to state the UKB has its own delegate to Congress, Victoria Proctor Holland, but this does not appear to be part of the November hearing.
But Hoskin said the UKB has no such treaty.
"The UKB, created by Act of Congress in 1946 and chartered in 1950, does not now, and has never had, a reservation, nor has it been party to any treaty with the United States, including our treaties referencing our Delegate to the House of Representatives," he said. "Cherokee Nation, with its continuous government-to-government relationship with the United States since the founding of this country, exercises jurisdiction over our reservation and is party to relevant treaties and other agreements."