OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The newly elected chief of the Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation plans to appoint the tribe's first-ever delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, which is outlined in a nearly 200-year-old treaty with the federal government.
In an Aug. 15 letter to the speaker of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. requested a special meeting of the council on Aug. 29 to consider confirming Kimberly Teehee, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, to the position. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter on Aug. 16.
Hoskin, the tribe's former secretary of state, was elected leader of the 370,000-citizen tribe, the country's largest, in June with almost 58 percent of the vote.
In a statement released by the tribe, Hoskin said the CN's right to a congressional delegate was reaffirmed by two separate treaties with the federal government and reflected in the tribe's Constitution. He also said it was important now because Native issues "continue to rise to the forefront of the national dialogue."
"At Cherokee Nation, we are exercising our treaty rights and strengthening our sovereignty," Hoskin said. "The announcement next week is simply the first step in a long process, having a Cherokee Nation citizen seated as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. We are eager to work with our congressional delegation from Oklahoma to move this historic appointment forward."
The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering a tribal sovereignty case that could radically redefine criminal jurisdiction in Oklahoma, and the issue has been at the forefront of protests by Indigenous people over the location of a pipeline in the Dakotas and a telescope in Hawaii.
A citizen of the CN, Teehee was tapped by Obama in 2009 as a senior policy adviser for Native American Affairs. She currently is the tribe's vice president of government relations.
The tribe's right to a delegate is outlined in the Treaty of New Echota signed in 1835, which provided the legal basis for the forced removal of the CN from its ancestral homelands east of the Mississippi River and led to the Trail of Tears, but it has never been exercised.
It's not clear what steps Congress might take to accommodate a CN delegate, but it's likely they would be a non-voting member, similar to those from American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Washington D.C., said Ezra Rosser, an expert in tribal law and a professor at American University's College of Law.
The tribe's attempt could also face a legal challenge and end up in court, Rosser added.
"I'm excited they're trying it," said Rosser, who wrote a legal paper on the issue in 2005. "Even if it doesn't go anywhere, non-Indians should be forced to face up to what we did and I think this is a tool that could be used to challenge not only our understanding of democracy, but also our understanding of history. So I think it's great."
However, according to an article by The Oklahoman, U.S. Rep. Tom Cole predicted that it will take a long time to resolve the Cherokee Nation's claim that it has a treaty right to a delegate to Congress. Cole said the full House would likely have to approve any such change to its membership.
"There's a lot of questions that have to be answered," Cole, R-Moore, said. "Number one, I don't know that the treaty still is valid. They're basing it on something that is 185 years ago."
Cole, a Chickasaw Nation citizen, praised the Cherokee Nation and said previous leaders had raised the issue of having a delegate to Congress.
"I intend to sit down and listen to it," he said. "I'm always sympathetic to tribes, particularly Oklahoma tribes, so I'm interested in having the dialogue. But I think we're a long way away at this point ... Where the membership of the (House) would be, I just simply don't know."