A House committee plans to consider whether the Cherokee Nation, an Oklahoma-based Native American tribe with more than 400,000 members, should be represented in Congress under an 1835 treaty.
The hearing marks progress for the tribe, which has been seeking the delegate seat since 2019. Still, the matter is far from settled legally and many thorny issues are expected to be resolved.
“The House Rules Committee plans to hold a hearing on this matter soon,” a senior Democratic official told HuffPost on Friday.
The status of the delegate, if seated, would likely resemble that of several nonvoting officials who currently represent US jurisdictions such as Guam, the US Virgin Islands and, most famously, the District of Columbia. Depending on which party holds power in the House, delegates have sometimes won the right to vote in committee, but have generally not been allowed to vote on the floor of the House.
The Cherokees were one of many native tribes driven from the southeastern United States in the 1820s and 1830s as the nation grew. Under a treaty signed in New Echota, Georgiathe Cherokees, after fighting with American military forces and under pressure from American settlers, agreed to move west into the territory that would become Oklahoma, in exchange for money and other considerations.
This forced westward movement, in which a quarter of the Cherokees perished, became known as the “Trail of Tears”.
The 1835 treaty includes language that says the Cherokees “shall be entitled to one delegate to the House of Representatives of the United States whenever Congress makes provision for it.”
In August 2019, Chuck Hoskin Jr., the main chief of the Cherokee Nation, announced that the tribe was starting the process for sending a delegate to Congress. Hoskin named tribal member Kim Teehee, the senior adviser for Native American affairs to the Obama White House, as his and the tribal council’s pick.
But the pandemic delayed things, and movement on the issue appeared to stall. Earlier this week, however, the Cherokees posted a video calling for Teehee to be seated by the end of the year.
“The New Echota Treaty has no expiration date,” Hoskin said in the video. “The requirement to install a Cherokee Nation delegate is as binding today as it was in 1835.”
“I looked at the treaty. I think they have a legitimate case.
– Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.)
Part of the delay in determining the seat of the delegate was due to the need to research the legal ramifications. A second senior Democratic official told HuffPost: “Last year, the Committee on House Administration commissioned the Congressional Research Service to produce a report on legal and procedural issues related to the nomination of a delegate of the Cherokee Nation in the House. This report was completed at the end of July this year. »
The CRS report noted there could be legal issues in a delegate’s seat, including whether it would violate the “one person, one vote” principle by giving Cherokee citizens additional representation beyond that provided by their elected member of the States House -United. But whether that issue could even be decided by a court was unclear, CRS said.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the ranking Republican on the Rules Committee and a member of the Chickasaw Nation — and thus one of the few Native Americans in Congress — told HuffPost that many questions would have to be answered. many questions first, including the constitutional right of the House to determine its own members.
Still, he said he was friends with Teehee, the proposed delegate, and he thinks the Cherokee Nation has a point to make.
“I looked at the treaty. I think they have a legitimate case,” he said. “Overall, look, I believe treaty rights are enforced, but the final arbiter of whether or not we install someone will be the House of Representatives.”
Senior Journalist Arthur Delaney contributed to this story.