Cherokee people's at-large congressional district
Delegate
  Kimberly Teehee (designate from the Cherokee Nation)
Victoria Holland (designate from the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians)
Ethnicity

The Cherokee delegate to the United States House of Representatives is an office established via the Treaty of New Echota in 1835. The office was intended to represent the Cherokee people and was instrumental in negotiations of land transfer and sovereignty in the Treaty. The office went vacant until 2019, with the appointment of Kimberly Teehee of the Cherokee Nation. Teehee and tribal leadership attempted to get her seated in the 116th and 117th United States Congresses. In 2021, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians designated their own delegate, lawyer Victoria Holland.

History

A 2022 Congressional Research Service report on native representation in Congress

The Cherokee and Choctaw Native American tribes have treaty rights to send delegates to Congress. The right to a non-voting delegate to Congress was promised to the Cherokee by the Treaty of Hopewell in 1785 (affirmed in 1835's Treaty of New Echota) and to the Choctaw under the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830, "whenever Congress shall make provision for [a delegate]". Congress has never provided for the appointment of delegates from Indian tribes.[1] The Choctaw tribe has never appointed a delegate to Congress[2] and the Cherokee had not until 2019.[3] However, the Choctaw did send a non-congressional delegate to Washington for most of the 19th century as an ambassador to represent them before the U.S. government, the most noteworthy being Peter Pitchlynn.[4]

In addition, the first treaty signed between the United States and a Native American nation, the Treaty of Fort Pitt (1778) with the Lenape ("Delaware Nation"), encouraged them to form a state that would have representation in Congress; however, it is unclear if the treaty would allow a delegate without the formation of a U.S. state.[5][6][7]

A similar situation actively exists at the state legislature level with the Maine House of Representatives maintaining seats for three non-voting delegates representing the Penobscot (since 1823), the Passamaquoddy (since 1842), and the Maliseet (since 2012).[8] The rights of the tribal delegates has fluctuated over time but appears to have been born from a practice in Massachusetts General Court (Maine was a part of Massachusetts until 1820).[8] Unlike the situation at the federal level, Maine's state-level tribal delegates are established by state law rather than treaties.[8] As of 2015, only the Passamaquoddy seat is filled; the other two Nations have chosen to currently not fill their seats in protest over issues of tribal sovereignty and rights.[9] The Wisconsin Legislature, the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick in Canada, and the New Zealand Parliament were allegedly reviewing Maine's indigenous delegate policy for their own adoption (though New Zealand had already established Māori electorates since 1867).[8]

There remain, however, untested questions about the validity of such delegates. If tribal citizens are represented in the House by both a voting member and a non-voting delegate, that might be seen as contrary to the principle of “one person, one vote”. Disagreement on which federally recognized tribes would appoint the relevant delegate could also occur (e.g. the Choctaw delegate might represent only the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, say, or also the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians; similarly with the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians).[10] In 2022, the Congressional Research Service published "Legal and Procedural Issues Related to Seating a Cherokee Nation Delegate in the House of Representatives", addressing these concerns and logistical issues.[11]

On August 25, 2019, the Cherokee Nation formally announced its intention to appoint a delegate, nominating Kimberly Teehee, the tribe's vice president of government relations, as its first delegate.[12] According to the process used for other non-voting delegates, the House of Representatives must vote to formally admit Teehee.[13] Some congressional leaders have expressed concerns about Teehee being appointed by a tribal government rather than elected by tribal members; Teehee has contended that, since the Cherokee Nation is a sovereign nation, her appointment as a delegate should be viewed analogous to an ambassadorship.[5] An ambassadorial view of Native delegates is consistent with prior history of Native envoys to Washington and Maine's state-level tribal delegates.[4][9] Hoskin has also argued that the appointment method rather than a popular vote is consistent with the Cherokee Nation's constitution.[14]

Teehee's appointment to the House was not finalized in the 116th Congress and has been reported to have been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.[15] Teehee remained unseated as of September 2022,[16] when the Cherokee Nation government reiterated their insistence that Congress seat her.[17][18][19] A formal hearing by the United States House Committee on Rules to discuss the legality and procedure for seating Teehee was scheduled for November 16, 2022.[20][21] Hoskins spoke at the event and afterward, several members of the House supported a decision to seat Teehee as soon as possible, including by the end of the year.[22]

While Teehee represents the Cherokee Nation, in 2021, Oklahoma's United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians selected Victoria Holland as a delegate, arguing that they represent the same people as the Cherokee of the Treaty of New Echota.[22]

A third federally recognized Cherokee tribe is the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) in North Carolina, who have not nominated a delegate. They have reached out to James McGovern of the House Rules Committee about the topic of congressional representation and made the issue a key point of their 2023 legislative agenda.[23][24]

Delegates representing the Cherokee

Designated congressional delegates from the Cherokee peoples
Delegate Tribe Party Term Congress Electoral history
December 29, 1835 – August 29, 2019 24th–116th Vacant
Kimberly Teehee smiling
Kimberly Teehee
Cherokee Nation Democratic August 29, 2019 – present 116th
117th
118th
Appointed by Chuck Hoskin Jr. in August 2019 and approved unanimously by committee. Teehee was not seated during the 116th Congress or in any subsequent Congress.
Victoria Holland United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians 2021–present 117th
118th
Appointed by committee in 2021. Holland was not seated in the 117th Congress and has not been seated in any subsequent Congress.

See also

References

  1. ^ Pommersheim, Frank (September 2, 2009). Broken Landscape: Indians, Indian Tribes, and the Constitution. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 333. ISBN 978-0-19-970659-4. Retrieved November 17, 2022.
  2. ^ Ahtone, Tristan (January 4, 2017). "The Cherokee Nation Is Entitled to a Delegate in Congress. But Will They Finally Send One?". YES! Magazine. Bainbridge Island, Washington. Retrieved January 4, 2019.
  3. ^ Murphy, Sean (August 16, 2019). "Country's largest tribal nation seeks congressional delegate". Muskogee Phoenix. Muskogee, Oklahoma. Archived from the original on August 17, 2019. Retrieved August 24, 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Peter P. Pitchlynn Collection". Western Histories Collection, University of Oklahoma Libraries. Archived from the original on August 17, 2021. Retrieved November 17, 2022.
  5. ^ a b Casteel, Chris (September 8, 2019). "Teehee hopes for congressional collaboration on seating her as Cherokee Nation delegate". The Oklahoman. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Retrieved October 29, 2020.
  6. ^ Evarts, Jeremiah (1829). "William Penn Papers No. 9". Essays on the Present Crisis in the Condition of the American Indians. Boston, Massachusetts, United States: Perkins & Marvin. pp. 33–34.
  7. ^ Rosser, Ezra (October 17, 2007). "Promises of Nonstate Representatives". The Yale Law Journal. 117. Retrieved October 29, 2020.
  8. ^ a b c d Starbird, S. Glenn Jr. (1983). "Brief History of Indian Legislative Representatives". Maine Legislature. Retrieved January 4, 2021.
  9. ^ a b Moretto, Mario (May 26, 2015). "Passamaquoddy, Penobscot tribes withdraw from Maine Legislature". Bangor Daily News.
  10. ^ Rosser, Ezra (November 7, 2005). "The Nature of Representation: The Cherokee Right to a Congressional Delegate". Boston University Public Interest Law Journal. 15 (91): 91–152. SSRN 842647.
  11. ^ "Legal and Procedural Issues Related to Seating a Cherokee Nation Delegate in the House of Representatives". Congressional Research Service. July 21, 2022. Retrieved October 31, 2022.
  12. ^ Kaur, Harmeet (August 25, 2019). "The Cherokee Nation wants a representative in Congress". CNN. Retrieved November 17, 2022.
  13. ^ Krehbiel-Burton, Lenzy (August 23, 2019). "Citing treaties, Cherokees call on Congress to seat delegate from tribe". Tulsa World. Tulsa, Oklahoma. Retrieved August 24, 2019.
  14. ^ Segers, Grace (November 16, 2022). "187 Years Later, Congress Thinks About Seating a Cherokee Delegate". The New Republic. Retrieved November 17, 2022.
  15. ^ Hunter, Chad (May 10, 2021). "CN leaders view 'dismissive' remarks as teaching moment". Cherokee Phoenix.
  16. ^ Hoskin, Chuck Jr. (September 4, 2022). "Cherokee chief: Our ancestors were promised a delegate in the House. Treaties matter". Yahoo! News. Retrieved September 5, 2022.
  17. ^ Hernandez, Joe (September 24, 2022). "The Cherokee Nation is renewing its push for a nonvoting delegate in Congress". NPR. Retrieved September 24, 2022.
  18. ^ "Cherokee Nation seeks help urging Congress to seat a delegate in U.S. House". Tulsa World. September 23, 2022.
  19. ^ Blakemore, Erin (October 5, 2022). "In 1835, the Cherokee were promised a seat in Congress. They're still waiting". National Geographic. Archived from the original on October 5, 2022.
  20. ^ "Hearing Announcement: Legal and Procedural Factors Related to Seating a Cherokee Nation Delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives". United States House Committee on Rules. November 9, 2022. Retrieved November 9, 2022.
  21. ^ "House to consider seating Cherokee Nation delegate". WDBJ. November 4, 2022.
  22. ^ a b "Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma could get first delegate to Congress in 200 years". The Guardian. November 16, 2022. Retrieved November 16, 2022.
  23. ^ Murphy, Sean (November 17, 2022). "Congress considers fulfilling 200-year-old promise to seat Cherokee Nation delegate". NewsHour. PBS. Retrieved November 17, 2022.
  24. ^ Fuchs, Hailey (January 10, 2023). "Cherokee tribes turn to K Street to fulfill a 187-year-old promise for a seat in Congress". Politico.