Nov 16, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Pelosi vows "path" for Cherokee Nation House delegate

Chuck Hoskin Jr., chief of the Cherokee Nation, testifies during the House Rules Committee hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Chuck Hoskin Jr., chief of the Cherokee Nation, testifies during the House Rules Committee hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that House Democrats will explore how to seat a nonvoting U.S. House delegate promised to the Cherokee Nation nearly two centuries ago.

Why it matters: Republicans will flip control of the U.S. House after four years out of power in the chamber and could stall attempts by the Cherokee Nation to seat promised delegate.

  • It's unclear if Pelosi will push for the Cherokee Nation delegate in a lame-duck session of Congress or will make it part of their agenda in the minority.

Driving the news: Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. testified during the House Rules Committee hearing on why one of the country's largest Indigenous tribes wants to seat the delegate.

  • "Treaties are binding commitments. The Cherokee Nation delivered on its commitment long ago in land and lives. It is time for the United States to deliver on its promise."

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.
  • 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.

The intrigue: In 2019, the year he was elected principal chief, Hoskin named Kim 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.

  • Since then, the Cherokee Nation has garnered bi-partisan support in Oklahoma, and among other Indigenous tribes who say treaties need to be honored.
  • As a delegate, Teehee wouldn't be able to vote on final legislation but could vote in committee and give House floor speeches.

What they're saying: "Chairman Jim McGovern and the House Rules Committee have taken a key first step toward identifying what actions must be taken to honor this long-standing promise," Pelosi said in a statement.

  • "The House Democratic Caucus will continue to explore a path toward welcoming a Delegate from the Cherokee Nation into the People's House.

Between the lines: It was the first noticeable movement on the demand since the Cherokee Nation launched an aggressive public relations campaign to force Congress to seat the delegate after months -- and years -- of inaction.

What to watch: 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.

  • Democrats can act on the delegate before Republicans take over. If they fail, they risk a backlash from Indigenous activists who will say Democrats took them for granted and don't prioritize their issues.
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