Teehee nominated as Cherokee Nation’s delegate to Congress
Kimberly Teehee and Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. stand in front of the Cherokee Nation Courthouse Museum after it was announced on Aug. 22 in Tahlequah that Hoskin is nominating Teehee as a delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – In a “historic first step” for his first 100 days in office, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. on Aug. 22 at the Cherokee National History Museum nominated Kimberly Teehee as the Cherokee Nation delegate for the U.S. House of Representatives, enacting a treaty provision that the tribe has never enforced.
Teehee is the Cherokee Nation Businesses vice president of government relations and a former adviser to President Barack Obama.
The congressional delegate provision is outlined in two treaties with the U.S. government, in Article XII of the 1785 Treaty of Hopewell and in Article VII of the 1835 Treaty of New Echota. It is also outlined in the tribe’s 1999 Constitution.
The New Echota Treaty states, “…it is stipulated that they shall be entitled to a delegate in the House of Representatives of the United States whenever Congress shall make provision for the same.”
“I think that anytime we can raise our voice in the Congress that it’s important,” Hoskin said. “Our most essential relationship from a government-to-government standpoint is with the government of the United States. We work in the Congress all the time. Kim Teehee has worked on Capitol Hill. She’s worked for the Cherokee Nation advocating our interests so it’s certainly a natural fit to nominate her as delegate.”
According to the 1999 Constitution, a delegate will participate in congressional activities, advocate for the best interest of the Cherokee people, make reports to the Tribal Council and principal chief on congressional activities and administrative matters in relation to federal law and policy and produce an annual report to the Cherokee people.
“Every time I have gone outside of the 14 counties and the comfort of my own home here in Oklahoma, whether it’s to serve as the vice president and director of government relations for the Cherokee Nation, director of a bipartisan congressional Native American caucus, as an adviser to the president of the United States, or as just a young woman from Claremore, Oklahoma, I have always tried to represent the best of our Nation and the best of its people,” Teehee said.
If accepted, Teehee will be considered a non-voting delegate but is expected to still make an impact for Cherokees and Indian Country.
“Non-voting delegates actually have quite a number of impacts. They can vote in committee. They can introduce bills. They have staff. They have resources. They’re an extra voice in Congress,” she said.
However, Hoskin said there is public concern that the treaties under which a delegate is outlined will not be honored at the federal level.
“We certainly take our treaties serious, and Cherokees always have ever since we’ve had a government-to-government relationship with the United States,” Hoskin said. “So this is a provision that we have not enforced, but just because we haven’t enforced it doesn’t mean that it’s not valid and enforceable now. You have to remember through most of the 20th century the government of the United States suppressed the Cherokee Nation government. Today we’re in a position of strength. We ought to be asserting our rights under the treaty.”
He added that Teehee now begins a long process of obtaining a delegate seat in Congress.
“It will be a process of educating members of what our rights are and working through that process,” he said. “This will be the first time that an Indian nation has sent a delegate to Congress. It’s certainly the first for Cherokee Nation. Kim Teehee, in addition to being someone who could serve as delegate, also is the natural person to shepherd us through this process.”
Teehee said the process would not “open a floodgate” for other tribes because there are only three tribes with delegate language within their respective treaties, the Choctaw and Delaware tribes being the other two.
Teehee’s nomination was expected to go before the Tribal Council on Aug. 29 for confirmation.
Before being named the tribe’s vice president of government relations in 2014, Teehee served President Obama as the first-ever senior policy advisor for Native American affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Council for three years. Prior to that, she was senior advisor to the U.S. House of Representatives Native American Caucus Co-Chair, Rep. Dale Kildee D-MI.
Republican U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, himself a CN citizen, said that while the path to seating a delegate remains murky, he is a strong supporter of tribal sovereignty.
“Appointing a tribal member as a delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives is unprecedented and there are many unknowns ahead,” Mullin said. “As a member of the Cherokee Nation, I firmly believe tribal sovereignty and treaties must be honored by the federal government.”
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, a Chickasaw Nation citizen, said that while he hasn’t reviewed the Cherokee treaty language, he said he has great respect for the tribe and takes any case they make seriously.
“At this point, there are a lot of unknowns,” Cole said. “But I look forward to engaging with them and learning more about this issue in the weeks and months ahead.”
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.