GUEST EDITORIAL: Righting a wrong: Treaty-mandated delegate belongs to Cherokee Nation

Sara Hill

It seems that history is being revised.

Let me correct the inaccuracies raised by Anile Locust in her guest editorial, "For Keetoowahs, Cherokee Nation not legitimate" on Dec. 15, 2022.

The United States promised to seat a Cherokee Nation delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives as part of the 1835 Treaty of New Echota. As a result of the treaty, Cherokee Nation citizens were forcibly removed from their homelands east of the Mississippi River to the Indian Territory in present day eastern Oklahoma. Thousands of Cherokees died along the way on the infamous Trail of Tears. Although the 1835 treaty was ratified by the Senate and signed into law by President Andrew Jackson, the House still has yet to act on its treaty obligation to seat a delegate for the nation.

The right to a delegate in the House is unique to the Cherokee Nation. There were only two parties to the 1835 Treaty of New Echota - the United States and the Cherokee Nation.

In fact, the Cherokee Nation is the only tribal party to all U.S.-Cherokee treaties dating back to 1785. As such, the Cherokee Nation is the sole beneficiary of the commitments made by the United States in the Treaty of New Echota, as well as in the other treaties with the Cherokee Nation.

The courts are clear on this issue. Federal courts have held time and time again that the Cherokee Nation entered into and is bound today by treaties signed with the United States. Congress is clear on this issue. In 2002, Congress plainly stated the Cherokee Nation "has maintained a continuous government-to-government relationship with the United States since the earliest years of the Union."

This formal determination by Congress that the Cherokee Nation has had a "continuous" relationship with the United States dating back to the signing of the treaties is a complete rebuttal to claims made by the United Keetoowah Band that it is a "successor" to the Cherokee Nation and therefore shares this treaty right.

Simply put: the UKB does not hold the delegate treaty right. It was not a party to the 1835 Treaty of New Echota. Indeed, UKB was not even a tribe in 1835 when the treaty was signed. UKB did not come into existence until 1950, almost more than 115 years later.

To get around this inconvenient historical fact, the UKB has invented a new Cherokee history, one in which the UKB declares it was once the "Old Settler" Cherokees living west of the Mississippi, who later became the Keetoowah Society of 1858, who 92 years after that became UKB. There are many problems with this story, not the least of which is UKB offers no evidence it is true. Nowhere in any of the U.S.-Cherokee Nation treaties is there any reference to the Keetoowah, the Keetoowah Society, the Keetoowah Band, or the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians. UKB's topsy-turvy history and its claim to a delegate treaty right have no basis in fact, history, law, or common sense.

While others have every right to express their opinions, the case here is clear. This treaty right to a delegate in the House is held solely by the Cherokee Nation.

The claims of some other tribes were raised and addressed at the recent Congressional hearing on the delegate issue.

House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern said, "...the fact that others have a claim should not affect the claim that the Cherokee Nation is advancing."

We could not agree more. We must not let intertribal disputes get in the way of holding the United States accountable.

Congress, it is time to get the job done. Don't get distracted by misleading claims.

Sara Hill is the attorney general for the Cherokee Nation.

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