OPINION: Congressional delegate would have voice in Washington
The Cherokee people have spent generations surviving and persevering through a series of federal policies that conspire to destroy our government, break up our families and relegate our people to the pages of history. As most of us know, it has been going on a long time.
In 1835, the Treaty of New Echota led to the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation from our homelands in the southeast to Indian Territory, while at the same time ceding vast amounts of traditional and prosperous homelands. Thankfully our leaders, while at the table negotiating with the federal government, had the foresight to insert into the treaty a long-term provision they knew would serve in our best interest for generations to come. They bargained with the federal government, as mutual sovereigns, for the guaranteed right to have a Cherokee Congressional delegate, so that we would always have a voice in Washington, D.C.
The CN has done its part to fulfill the right guaranteed in three separate treaties. It is part of the CN Constitution and as principal chief, I took a vow to defend our sovereign rights and uphold our Constitution. Toward that end, I recently nominated Kim Teehee to be the tribe’s first-ever delegate to the House of Representatives. The Tribal Council unanimously approved. I am sending a Cherokee woman to Washington, D.C., and she deserves her rightful seat as the first CN Delegate to Congress.
As a young man, I was a delegate at the 1999 Cherokee Constitutional Convention and made sure a delegate provision was included in our Constitution, with an eye toward the opportunity we have before us now. We owe it our ancestors, who wisely negotiated this guaranteed right not once or twice but three times in treaty negotiations with the U.S. government. Although the first of those treaties was signed in 1785, more than two centuries ago, they are still in full force and effect. The rights outlined for us have no expiration date.
We need more champions at the table in Washington and the CN, as the largest tribe in the country, can use this treaty right to better serve all tribal nations. We expect the federal government to keep its word. Our country is at its strongest when it fulfills its legal and moral obligations.
We are not reinventing the wheel. Congress has established a mechanism to seat delegates from multiple U.S. territories, as well as the District of Columbia. While we should look at that framework as a starting point, we should also acknowledge the distinctions. The CN’s delegate is unique in that it is based on a treaty right. Our delegate is representing the sovereign interest of the CN.
We know fulfilling this position will take work for it to come into fruition, but the CN is willing to make the investment of time, energy and resources.
Recently, Kim and I visited Capitol Hill and met with numerous members of Congress. I am very encouraged that they agreed with this simple idea: the United States should keep its word to the CN.
Today, through self-determination, the CN is stronger than ever. We are finally in a position of strength and have the capacity to hold the U.S. government accountable for the rights it has guaranteed our tribal government. That is exactly what we expect. And that is what the CN is doing for our citizens.