In 1835, the Cherokee Nation was forced to sign the Treaty of New Echota, which removed its people at gunpoint from their lands in the deep south and marched them along the “Trail of Tears,” where over a quarter of the tribe perished.
Almost 200 years later, that same treaty could give the nation new representation in Washington, D.C.
In addition to promising $5 million and tribal land in Oklahoma, the treaty guarantees the Cherokee Nation a delegate in the House, who despite not being able to vote, can still introduce legislation and serve on committees.
Now, the tribe is petitioning Congress to make good on its promise — according to The New York Times, the House Rules Committee is set to hold a hearing on the matter in mid-November.
“For two centuries, Congress has failed to honor that promise. However, the treaty of New Echota has no expiration date. The obligation to seat a Cherokee Nation delegate is as binding today as it was in 1835,” Chuck Hoskin Jr., Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, said in a video last month.
In 2019, Hoskin Jr. nominated Kimberly Teehee, a senior Native American affairs adviser for the Obama administration, to be the delegate.
“To have Congress take action to finally seat the delegate would be a tremendous honor but also would show that the U.S. keeps its word,” Teehee said last month.
“We often get asked, ‘Why now? Why 200 years?’ Well it’s because forced removal means all that we had developed in the east, all that wealth, the housing, all of that, we had nothing when we came here. Look at the time that it took for the Cherokee Nation post removal to rebuild itself,” she said.
If the Cherokee Nation sends a delegate to Washington, D.C. it could set a precedent for other tribal nations. The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit signed in 1830 grants the Choctaw Nation a right to a non-voting delegate, as does The Treaty with the Delawares, signed in 1778.
Teehee, herself a Democrat, faces an uphill battle, especially if Republicans take control of Congress in the midterms.
She would become the seventh non-voting member of the House, joining delegates from Washington, D.C., the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each delegate serves a two-year term, while Puerto Rico is represented by a resident commissioner, who serves a four-year term.