After a three-year wait for Kimberly Teehee — and a 187-year one for the Cherokee Nation — the U.S. House of Representatives’ Rules Committee on Wednesday will take up the matter of seating a nonvoting delegate of the tribe.
The Cherokee Tribal Council confirmed Teehee in 2019 as the nation’s delegate to Congress as authorized by the 1835 Treaty of New Echota.
A previous agreement predating the U.S. Constitution, the 1785 Treaty of Hopewell, also allowed for the Cherokee Nation to send a “deputy” to Congress under the Articles of Confederation.
“A hearing is what we’ve asked for, but we’ve also asked for a vote this year,” Teehee said by phone from Washington, D.C.
The process, she said, should be fairly straightforward.
“The Treaty of New Echota has been ratified by the Senate and signed by the president,” she said.
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Of course, the president was Andrew Jackson, but the Cherokees say that doesn’t matter.
“It is already the supreme law of the land,” she said. “The treaty … expressly entitles the Cherokee Nation to a delegate in the House of Representatives. So only the House needs to act on a resolution, a straight up-or-down vote.”
The hope is that the hearing will lead to a House resolution and floor vote before Congress adjourns in December.
The Rules Committee hearing will be live-streamed at 9 a.m. Wednesday at rules.house.gov/hearing/cherokee-delegate.
Fourth District Congressman Tom Cole, a Chickasaw citizen, is the committee’s ranking Republican.
“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 Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a written 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.”
Teehee, 54, is a protege of the late Wilma Mankiller and was President Barack Obama’s senior policy adviser for Native American Affairs.
She has worked in and around Congress since 1998. Her first job there was running the bipartisan House Native American Caucus.
“I became known for getting Native American issues across the finish line and working collaboratively with both sides of the aisle and with my Senate counterparts, as well,” Teehee said.
She said she and the Cherokee Nation have spent the past three years building support both in Washington and from native governments. So far, she said, the response has been positive.
“I’m not so naive as to say concerns won’t come out of the woodwork, but they have not been expressed to us,” Teehee said. “What we have gotten, and fairly so, are questions that are complicated.”
An obvious question is why the treaty provision for a Cherokee delegate has never been implemented.
Teehee said a lot has happened since 1835, beginning with the tribe’s forced removal from the southeastern United States and continuing right up through the COVID-19 pandemic of the past three years.
Other treaties and laws have been signed during those intervening years, including the 1898 Curtis Act and the 1906 Oklahoma Enabling Act. Both weakened the state’s tribal governments to the point of extinguishment until policy changes beginning in the 1970s led to a slow revival.
“It took years to rebuild the (Cherokee) nation,” Teehee said.
As a delegate, Teehee would be a nonvoting member of the House. The same is true of delegates from the District of Columbia and territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands.
But having a delegate there would allow for more direct input into the legislative process.
“It would allow the Cherokee Nation to have a seat at the table when formulating laws that impact us,” Teehee said. “But not just us. It’s a seat at the table for other tribes; after all, we have similar issues. As a result of that, we’ve received widespread support from tribes across the country.”
Beyond that, Teehee said, acknowledging the treaty provision after all these years “shows the United States keeps it word. And beyond that, probably more importantly, it would give some small measure of justice.”