Teehee secures House hearing in bid to become Cherokee U.S. congressional delegate
'[E]nsuring the United States keeps its word to our tribe.'
WASHINGTON — After intense lobbying by the Cherokee Nation and tribal advocates, the U.S. House Rules Committee has agreed to hold a hearing next week on whether to allow a non-voting delegate of the Cherokee Nation to join the U.S. Congress.
The Cherokee Nation has noted for decades upon decades that the 1835 Treaty of New Echota between the U.S. and the tribe led to the removal of their peoples from their traditional homelands via the so-called Trail of Tears; however, the treaty also contained a special provision promising the tribe a U.S. congressional delegate that has gone unfulfilled.
In other words, the bad parts of the treaty (for the tribe) were enforced by the U.S. government, while the good parts (for the tribe) were ignored — a common problem in federal-tribal relations that often continues to this day.
Cherokee pleas long fell on deaf legislative ears, especially since the U.S. government has tended to ignore and subvert scores of federal-tribal treaties — big and small — signed with hundreds of Native American tribes and their citizens.
But in 2019, leadership with the Cherokee Nation decided to begin a fresh campaign anew, this time appointing a specific delegate to the U.S. Congress and then ramping up the pressure on legislators.
The tribe’s choice to represent them was perhaps a savvy political choice, 54-year-old Kim Teehee. She previously served as a top Indian affairs advisor in the Obama White House and before that was a longtime staffer for former Democratic Rep. Dale Kildee, of Michigan. (If the Republicans control the House in the next Congress, as expected, it remains to be seen whether Teehee will still be the wisest choice, due to politics.)
Despite some run-ins with tribal leaders over various policy issues when Teehee served within the federal government (while having to balance the difficult role of being Native with doing what her federal bosses told her to do), she is still well-liked by many tribal advocates — and she has gained recent support from tribal leaders beyond Cherokee.
“As a lifelong student of federal Indian policy with 22 years of experience as an elected tribal leader, and as a scholar with three graduate degrees and a doctorate, I strongly encourage all tribal nations to come together to support both the Cherokee Nation’s treaty right to place a delegate in Congress and for my friend and federal Indian policy expert, Kim Teehee, to be that voice,” Aaron Payment, former chairman of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, wrote in a recent editorial.
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), too, has previously supported the seating of a Cherokee Nation delegate in the U.S. Congress.
“Now Therefore be it resolved, that the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) fully supports the exercise of tribal treaty rights, including the seating of a Delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives where promised, and calls upon the House of Representatives to fulfill its obligation to tribal nations, including the Cherokee Nation, by seating its named Delegate in Congress,” stated a 2019 resolution issued by the advocacy organization.
The Cherokee Nation, under the current Democratic Congress and White House, has increased pressure to have Teehee seated, by creating an online campaign, social media postings and doing more press and interviews on the topic.
Teehee took part in one such interview with ABC News, which was published yesterday.
“The Cherokees were forcibly removed from the east to modern-day Oklahoma, where about a quarter of our population perished on that forced march,” she shared. “But the bad stuff didn't end there. The bad stuff throughout the 19th century, up until the 1970s, kept occurring to Cherokee Nation. So we feel like we're in a place today where we've had to rebuild and we can actually assert this treaty right today.”
Teehee said it’s important for her to get seated as a way for the United States to show that it “keeps its word, it keeps the promises that it made to tribes through a treaty.”
Plus, she added, “it would give us a seat at the table to vocalize our opinions and such when it comes to laws affecting the Cherokee Nation.”
Her tribe, too, looks forward to airing its sentiments during the upcoming House hearing.
“After appointing a Delegate to Congress in 2019, and many visits to Congress for outreach and education on our 1835 treaty rights, we are elated that a congressional hearing on our Cherokee Delegate has been set for Wednesday,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement. “Delegate Teehee and I look forward to attending this monumental hearing for all of Indian Country in which we take the step forward in getting Kim Teehee seated and ensuring the United States keeps its word to our tribe.”
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