Pelosi backs Rules Committee hearing to seat a Cherokee Nation delegate in the House

The outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is backing the Cherokee Nation‘s longstanding efforts to enforce a Treaty right entitling the Tribe to a delegate in the United States Congress.  Cherokee Nation officials hope that Pelosi will attach a policy rider to the debt ceiling vote in December to effectuate the seating of the non-voting delegate to the House.

The move is creating hope in indigenous communities that Pelosi might support long-stalled federal recognition initiatives, including for the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, whose ancestral territory includes Pelosi’s district.

“Since 1835, the Treaty of New Echota has entitled the Cherokee people to representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Chairman Jim McGovern and the House Rules Committee have taken a key first step toward identifying what actions must be taken to honor this long-standing promise.  The House Democratic Caucus will continue to explore a path toward welcoming a Delegate from the Cherokee Nation into the People’s House,” Pelosi writes.

“Our Caucus has drawn great strength from the leadership of our Native American colleagues and the Congressional Native American Caucus.  As we celebrate National Native American Heritage Month, the Democratic House remains committed to correcting the profound injustices of the past, living up to the federal government’s treaty obligations, fully embracing our trust responsibility and building a brighter, fairer future for the Cherokee Nation and all indigenous peoples,” she added.

Cherokee Nation announced its intention to send a delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives on Sept. 17, 2019. Since then, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. says he has met with a handful of lawmakers in Washington D.C., including Oklahoma Representatives Tom Cole, Markwayne Mullin, and Speaker Pelosi.

“All of those meetings were very encouraging because the questions that were posed were not posed in a manner to suggest that we shouldn’t be able to do this,” Hoskin said. “It was a question of how would we get it done?”

The tribe nominated former Obama advisor Kim Teehee to fill that position, and Hoskin says there are two options for seating her. It could be accomplished by changing House rules, but that could be easily undone. The other option is for Congress to pass a law like it has done for delegates from U.S. territories like Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands.

As a delegate, Teehee would not be able to cast votes on the House floor, but she could introduce legislation, offer amendments and vote in committee. She would represent Cherokee Nation, but there is also a sense that her presence on capitol hill would benefit all tribes.

“I do think the permanency of that has an appeal, but we’re not ruling out either of those options,” Hoskin said.

The 1835 Treaty of New Echota, which also led to the Trail of Tears, says the Cherokee Nation “shall be entitled to a delegate in the House of Representatives of the United States whenever Congress shall make provision for the same.”

“Cherokee Nation has historically been a leader on issues in Indian Country, so I think we should continue to fill that leadership role,” Hoskin said. “The other thing is that Indian Country is better off when we achieve some level of solidarity. On so many issues we’re really all in it together.”

Hoskin also thinks Teehee’s position will raise awareness about tribal sovereignty amongst the general public.

Representatives Cole and Mullin confirmed the meetings with representatives of Cherokee Nation, as did Speaker Pelosi. But it’s unclear if or when they will take action.

Cherokee Nation officials have been calling on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to appoint Rep. Markwayne Mullin, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and Oklahoma’s newly elected United States Senator to serve as the Chairman the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.  Appointing a Republican member of the chamber to chair a committee is unusual, but it would signal  increasingly bi-partisan support for indigenous communities, economic development, and tribal sovereignty. 

“After reviewing the specific language in the relevant 1835 treaty, I believe there is no question that the Cherokee Nation has a legitimate case to make,” Cole said in a statement. “However, members on both sides of the aisle will have to be educated and consulted. Moreover, there are still serious questions about how to proceed and if any additional requirements must be met.”

Mullin pointed out that appointing a tribal delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives is unprecedented, while voicing support for treaty rights and sovereignty.

“As a member of the Cherokee Nation, I firmly believe tribal sovereignty and treaties must be honored by the federal government,” Mullin said.

Pelosi’s Chief of Staff, Drew Hammill, also said it is important for Congress to honor treaty rights.

“House Democrats stand committed to not only righting the injustices of history, but also to honoring tribal sovereignty and working with Native nations to advance justice, prosperity and hope,” Hammill said.

Hoskin hopes to see Teehee in Congress by next fall.

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