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The Cherokee Nation wants a representative in Congress



The move raises questions about what this representation in Congress would look like and whether the US will comply with an agreement that they signed nearly two centuries ago.

The following is at stake.

The right of the Cherokee Nation to appoint a delegate stems from the same treaty with which the US government forcibly expelled the tribe from its ancestral lands.

As a result of the 1835 New Echota Treaty, the Cherokee had to leave their homes in southeastern Oklahoma to receive money and other compensation. Almost 4,000 members of the tribe died of illness, hunger and exhaustion on the journey, which today is known as the "trail of tears".

A House representative was one of the ways the US government promised to compensate the Cherokee nation. [1

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So why is the tribe just accepting the offer now?

Ezra Rosser, a professor of law at American University, told CNN that the US government had long made it hard for tribes to exercise their rights under treaties. But now the tribes assert themselves in a way that requires the attention of non-Native Americans.

"We must acknowledge that we have imposed genocide on the tribes and taken tough measures against any governmental structure that they had," Ezra said Rosser. "For me, it is not surprising that it would take some self-determination until the tribes are able to assert some of these rights."

Hoskin reiterated this view and told CNN that "the Cherokee nation today is in a position of strength that I think is unprecedented in its history."

Why is that important?

  The flags of Oklahoma, the United States and the Cherokee Nation fly behind a sculpture of Lady Liberty at the Cherokee Capitol Square in Tahlequah.

There are currently six non-voting members in the House. Washington D.C. and four permanently inhabited US territories – American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the US Virgin Islands – are represented by a delegate with a two-year term. Puerto Rico is served by a Puerto Rican-based commissioner who is elected every four years.

These representatives can not vote in Parliament, but they can vote in committees in which they are represented, legislating and debating. Hoskin said he hopes that the delegate of the Cherokee Nation would help advance the interests of the tribe and, in general, of all Indians.

Who will be the delegate of the tribe?

Kimberly Teehee was nominated to act as Cherokee delegate.

She is currently the Tribunal Vice-President of Government Relations and previously served as Senior Political Advisor for Native American Affairs in the Administration of President Barack Obama for three years. Previously, Teehee was a senior advisor for 12 years to Dale Kildee, a Democratic congressman from Michigan.

What's the next step?

First, Teehee must be confirmed in a special meeting on August 29 by the tribal council of the Cherokee nation, Hoskin said. The tribe plans to continue its talks with representatives from Oklahoma in the House of Representatives and to consider what that legislation will look like.

"It will be a process that I think will be tedious, but we are prepared to take," said Hoskin.

Will there be resistance to the movement?

Maybe.

There is reason to believe that the US may not recognize its agreement with the Cherokee Nation. In the past, the Supreme Court has upheld laws that violate US treaties with tribal nations, Rosser said.

Some organizations may legally question the Cherokee Nation's demand for a delegate, Rosser added, arguing that the move in this regard is more representative of tribal people in Congress than non-indigenous US citizens.

Rosser said it was also likely that the appointment of the Cherokee Nation might encounter resistance from other tribes, especially those who were also expelled from their country but who were not granted a separate delegate by a treaty.

Other tribes may argue that a Cherokee nation delegate threatens their own relations with the US government, Rosser said. The delegate of the Cherokee nation could de facto become the voice of all tribal nations in Congress and fear that the Representative could favor the Cherokee nation at the expense of other tribes.

Despite the possible hurdles, Hoskin is optimistic.

"I can easily put that into a nutshell for Congress," he said. "Does Congress intend to keep its word to the Cherokee? If the answer is yes, then Mrs. Teehee will sit."


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