Dec 12, 2021 - Axios on HBO

"Axios on HBO": Cherokee Nation wants its congressional delegate

Axios' Russell Contreras speaks with Chuck Hoskin Jr. (left) and Kim Teehee. Photo: "Axios on HBO"

The principal chief of the Cherokee Nation told "Axios on HBO" it's time for Congress to make good on a 19th century treaty by seating Kim Teehee as the Cherokee people's first nonvoting U.S. House delegate.

What they're saying: "The president of the United States agreed to this 180 years ago," Chuck Hoskin Jr. said during the program's season finale. "The United States Senate did its job 180 years ago; there's one part of the government left to take action. That's the United States House of Representatives."

  • Teehee was tapped by the tribe more than two years ago.

Driving the news: Hoskin and Teehee sat down for an interview at the Cherokee National Capitol in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. It's part of heavily Republican Cherokee County.

  • They expressed optimism their efforts are moving in the right direction and said they have support on both sides of the aisle. "I think as long as we are willing to proactively continue to keep the ball moving, we'll get there," Teehee said.
  • At the same time, Hoskin said, "I think any congressional leader or any president who campaigns on being pro-tribal sovereignty and goes back on such a basic promise, they're gonna be on the opposite side of me and they're gonna be on the opposite side of history. And there'll be a consequence for that."
  • The Cherokee and Navajo are the two most populous Native American tribes, each with an enrollment of roughly 400,000.

How we got here: The 1835 Treaty of New Echota — signed by President Andrew Jackson and ratified by the Senate — promised the Cherokee Nation a nonvoting House delegate.

It would be similar to what the District of Columbia or the U.S. territories have today.

  • That same treaty forced the Cherokee Nation to move from ancestral homelands in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee to present-day Oklahoma. Around 4,000 died along the way.
  • "You can imagine Cherokees having to face down a trauma in which they lost a quarter of their fellow countrymen," Hoskin said. "Asserting every detail of that treaty was not on their minds. It was surviving. It was rebuilding."
  • It wasn't until the 1970s that the Cherokee Nation was allowed to form a modern sovereign government. It took years more for scholars to realize they were promised a congressional delegate.
  • In 2019, the year he was elected principal chief, Hoskin named Teehee, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, as the tribe’s first delegate to the House. Her appointment came as tribal nations are asserting more political demands.

But, but, but: Spokespeople for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have said she supports tribal sovereignty, yet congressional leaders have not announced a decision on if or when to seat Teehee.

  • There are questions about what can be done administratively and what requires a resolution or new law, as well as how to minimize legal challenges.
  • Native Americans already vote in federal, state and local elections and are the constituents of voting members of Congress.

What we're hearing: Teehee's appointment has generated enthusiasm among some Indigenous people in the U.S.

  • As a delegate, she wouldn't be able to vote on final legislation but could vote in committee and give House floor speeches.
  • In the absence of other sovereign delegates, the unique seat also could make her the de facto representative for the more than 500 tribal nations in the U.S.
  • "It would be almost like an ambassadorship," Teehee said.
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