COLUMN: POINT-COUNTERPOINT: Treaties with Cherokees must be honored now

Thomas Sanco

The history of the U.S. government and the Native American tribes has been long and tumultuous, wrought with contention, tragedy, and betrayal. With these struggles came many treaties, and with those treaties, many broken promises. But now the Cherokee Nation is attempting to hold the U.S. government to its word in regard to a treaty made nearly 200 years ago.

The Treaty of New Echota was made in 1835, between the Cherokee Nation and the U.S. federal government. Among the agreements outlined in the treaty, Article 7 states that the Cherokee people "shall be entitled to a delegate in the House of Representatives of the United States." A Cherokee delegate could be an important voice for the Cherokee people. A delegate could sit on House committees, and even draft legislation, although they would not have a vote on House bills, like a representative. This seems like a simple promise to uphold, but it is one that remains unfulfilled.

Last week, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. attended a hearing with the U.S. House of Representatives in an effort to correct this unfulfilled promise. In his opening statement before the House Rules Committee, Chief Hoskin said, "Our right to a delegate was brought forward in our last treaty with the U.S. in 1866, and it remains the supreme law of the land. Cherokee Nation, and Cherokee Nation alone, is the tribe that is party to the Treaty of New Echota and the Treaty of 1866. The Cherokee Nation has in fact adhered to our obligations under these treaties. I'm here to ask the United States to do the same."

Now may be the best opportunity the Cherokees have had to have this promise fulfilled, and seating a delegate from the tribe appears to have bipartisan support. KJRH reported that Representative - now Senator-elect - Markwayne Mullin voiced his support for the U.S. government to adhere to their treaty with the Cherokees, saying, "As a member of the Cherokee Nation, I firmly believe the federal government must honor its trust and treaty responsibilities to Indian Nations," adding, "We are only as good as our word."

Not only is it a matter of our word, but it also appears to be obligated by the U.S. Constitution. Article VI of the Constitution states, "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land." Hoskin referred to this in his opening statement saying, "Under the Constitution's supremacy clause, treaties, and statutes create the supreme law."

Chief Hoskin and the Cherokee Nation have been diligently advocating for their delegate to be seated in the House of Representatives. In 2019, Kim Teehee was named the tribe's delegate, and many efforts have been made since that time for her to be accepted into the House. Although it has not happened yet, we may now be closer than ever to seeing this promise realized.

Chief Hoskin concluded in his opening remarks before the House committee, "The Treaty of New Echota requires - requires, Mr. Chairman - the House to seat our delegate. I urge you to seat Kim Teehee without delay."

Nearly 200 years after the Treaty of New Echota, the time has come - and is in fact far past due - for the U.S. government to honor its word to the Cherokee Nation and accept their delegate into the U.S. House of Representatives.

Thomas Sanco is a Cherokee County resident, who deals in vintage cars and parts.

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