WASHINGTON D.C. —Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. is calling for the U.S. House of Representatives to live up to the United States’ commitment in the 1835 Treaty of New Echota and seat the Cherokee Nation’s delegate. Chief Hoskin testified today before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Rules, reminding the United States of the binding commitment it made nearly 200 years ago, during the first-ever hearing on the Cherokee Nation’s treaty-mandated delegate. The hearing provided an opportunity to educate members of Congress on federal Indian law and to call for the United States to fulfill its obligation under the 1835 Treaty of New Echota.
“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,” said Chief Hoskin. “We are grateful to Chairman McGovern and the members of the Rules Committee for holding this historic hearing. Now we’re asking the House of Representatives to take action and seat the Cherokee Nation’s delegate.”
The U.S. government and the Cherokee Nation reached a binding agreement when the Treaty of New Echota was signed in 1835. It guaranteed the Cherokee Nation a voice in Congress in exchange for forcing the Cherokee from their ancestral lands and moving them west on what became known as “The Trail of Tears.” This long-standing agreement, which was ratified by the Senate and signed into law by President Andrew Jackson, guaranteed the Cherokee Nation a non-voting delegate seat in Congress. The treaty right is still in effect and the Cherokee Nation is calling for the U.S. House to vote to seat the delegate this year. The House has the power to act on its own. No further action is needed by the administration or Senate.
“For too long and for too many Tribal nations, the United States has failed to follow its own treaty obligations. This hearing is a step in the right direction but the commitment remains unfulfilled. Seating Delegate Teehee in Congress would send a powerful message to every Tribe that the United States will honor its commitments to both Cherokee and all American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians,” said Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández. “As Chair of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States, I will continue to push the United States to honor its trust and treaty responsibilities.”
The treaty mandate is definitive. Article seven of the Treaty of New Echota reads, “[t]he Cherokee nation…shall be entitled to a delegate in the House of Representatives…whenever Congress shall make provision for the same.” The duty on the United States to seat the delegate has long been clear.
In his testimony, Chief Hoskin detailed the history of the Treaty of New Echota; he highlighted the negotiation between the United States government and the Cherokee Nation and dispelled any remaining questions over the legitimacy of the tribe’s legal and constitutional right to a delegate:
· The treaty-mandated delegate is unique to the Cherokee Nation and resulted from the mutually binding 1835 Treaty of New Echota. There were only two parties to that treaty: the United States and the Cherokee Nation – no other tribes – and both are accountable for delivering on their commitments.
Over time, tribes have negotiated and entered into treaties with the U.S. government based on their own priorities. Other tribes, for example, negotiated for hunting and fishing rights. The Cherokee Nation prioritized having a voice in U.S. democracy.
There is broad support among tribes and tribal organizations across the country for seating the delegate including the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, United Tribes of Michigan, Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, All Pueblo Council of Governors, California Nations Indian Gaming Association, the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, and the National Congress of American Indians. Today, the Cherokee Nation released a new video featuring tribal leaders from across the country expressing support for seating the delegate and calling on Congress to take action.
· Dual representation is not an issue. Representatives vote on the floor. Delegates do not. The individual votes of the more than 440,000 Cherokee living across the United States would still only translate into one vote in the House — that of their existing member of Congress in the district in which they live. The Cherokee Nation’s delegate will function like other delegates from the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories.
· Appointing – rather than electing – a delegate is acceptable under the U.S. Constitution. Congress has always recognized appointment as a permissible method of selection. The Cherokee delegate was appointed by Chief Hoskin in 2019 and unanimously confirmed by the Cherokee Nation’s legislature. Since delegates are not “representatives,” they are not required to be elected.
· The Treaty of New Echota has no expiration date and is as binding as it was nearly 200 years ago. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that a treaty right, once established, can only be abrogated by Congress in clear and unequivocal terms. Congress has never repudiated or abrogated the Treaty of New Echota.
“Seating the Cherokee Nation’s delegate in Congress benefits all of Indian Country,” said Shannon Holsey, president of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians and treasurer of the National Congress of American Indians which represents more than 570 tribes across America. “Democracies are healthiest when a range of voices are included in the process. It is time for the U.S. government to fulfill its treaty obligation. The Cherokee Nation’s delegate would be able to protect and amplify the interests of not only the Cherokee Nation but all Native Americans.”
Chief Hoskin nominated Kim Teehee to serve as the Cherokee Nation’s first delegate as part of his “First 100 Days in Office” initiative in 2019. Before being named the tribe’s vice president of government relations in 2014, Teehee served President Barack Obama as the first-ever senior policy advisor for Native American affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Council for three years. Teehee also served in multiple leadership positions on Capitol Hill, including the bipartisan Native American Caucus in the House of Representatives, and in the Cherokee community.