During a Lunch and Learn gathering hosted by the Cherokee Nation Thursday, Feb. 20, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. discussed the tribe’s mission to send a delegate to the U.S. Congress and the next steps to move forward with the appointment.
In August 2019, Hoskin announced the Cherokee Nation would be asserting a treaty provision with the U.S. that allows the tribe to appoint a delegate. The provisions were outlined in the 1835 Treaty of New Echota and reaffirmed in the Treaty of 1866.
Since the announcement that the tribe would be invoking its right to seat a delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives, Hoskin has been discussing the action with members of Congress and the media. He cited one question he's often asked: "Why did it take so long for the Cherokee Nation to assert its treaty right?"
“So what I tell them is, yeah, it’s been 180 years, but a few things happened in that time period. We were removed forcibly, rounded up in stockades and lost a quarter of our population,” said Hoskin, referring to the Indian Removal Act and Trail of Tears.
After the displacement of thousands of Cherokees, who were moved to Indian Country in Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation rebuilt its society and government. Hoskin called the feat “one of the most remarkable stories of grit, determination, and rebirth” in the history of the U.S. and the world.
Hoskin said he then tells the story of how the Cherokee Nation was “ripped apart” during the Civil War.
“We’re split apart in the Civil War – great destruction to our institutions, to homes and businesses ripped through the Cherokee Nation,” he said. “Well, when you’re dealing with those sorts of things, trying to rebuild a society that the rest of the world said could not [be] rebuilt – when you’re busy doing that and then you’re busy being ripped apart again by the Civil War, you don’t have a lot of time … to go dig through the Treaty of New Echota and say we’re going to send a representative to the U.S. House of Representatives.”
After the Civil War, Cherokees faced land allotment and statehood. The federal government divided up communally held tribal land into privately owned property. And in 1906, the U.S. dismantled the tribe’s government under the Dawes Act. Also, between 1907 and 1971, all the principal chiefs of the Cherokee Nation were appointed by the U.S. president.
“So during that period of time, we sure can’t send a representative to Congress, because we can’t even elect our own chief,” Hoskin said. “So in the 1970s, there’s reform throughout Indian Country, with respect to federal policy. Some laws passed – the Principal Chiefs Act is one that says we can essentially restore our great Cherokee democracy again.”
Since then, the tribe has brought in revenue through gaming in Oklahoma, which allowed it to diversify its businesses and create more revenue streams. The Cherokee Nation now has an economic impact of $2 billion in Northeast Oklahoma. Hoskin said he thinks the tribe is gaining more respect in Washington, D.C., making the time ripe to invoke the treaty provision.
“I don’t know if you know this: The United States has sometimes not complied with our treaties,” he said. “Every one of them, in fact, they’ve broke. But I’m counting on the country being better than it has been in the past. I’m counting on the country believing in this idea that the United States ought to keep its word. If it ought to keep its word to anybody, it ought to keep its word to the Indian tribes that were here before there was the United States.”
Hoskin has appointed Kim Teehee as the delegate, and she was confirmed by the Tribal Council. She would likely be a non-voting member, similar to delegates of permanently inhabited U.S. territories: American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Teehee could vote in committee meetings, introduce legislation, and form relationships with those on Capitol Hill.
There are two routes in which the tribe could seat a delegate. For one, it could follow the most recent template laid out by the Mariana Islands, which gained a seat at the table through an act of Congress.
“That’s a pretty heavy lift, but I think all three branches ought to live up to the word of the country,” said Hoskins. “But the more efficient route would be just to have the Speaker of the House and the majority change the rules [and] seat Kim Teehee.”
The issue of dual representation has been brought up, as the majority of the people at the Lunch and Learn gathering live within Oklahoma’s 2nd congressional district. Hoskin said the tribe is arguing that the delegate would not represent the individual constituents within the Cherokee Nation jurisdiction, but Teehee would represent the Cherokee Nation government.
Hoskin said he will be surprised if Teehee is seated before the end of 2020, but added he will be sorely disappointed if she is never seated. He also cited the provision of the treaty that states the Cherokees “shall be entitled to a delegate in the House of Representatives of the United States whenever Congress shall make provision for the same.”
“Remember that language up there – ‘… whenever Congress shall make provisions for the same.’ That language can’t mean that Congress can never do anything, can it? Why would it be in there if Congress could get away with never doing it? So I think they’re on the hook myself,” said Hoskin.