Teehee embraces role as voice for Cherokees, Native Americans

A portrait of Kimberly Teehee. 

TULSA – An established voice for Native Americans at the highest level, Kimberly Teehee has long helped shape federal policy and now stands ready to fill a historic role representing her tribe.

“Being Cherokee is who I am and who my family is,” Teehee said. “The language is sacred and I’m so blessed to have been exposed to it all of my life. Protecting these precious things and the elements that support them is an important part of my life, and my contribution to that end has been to right historic wrongs by shaping federal Indian policy.”

Teehee, 52, of Tulsa, is director of government relations for Cherokee Nation and senior vice president of government relations for Cherokee Nation Businesses. She is also eager to “serve our tribal government and the Cherokee people” in her role as the tribe’s first delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. The tribe in 2019 named Teehee its delegate, enacting a 184-year-old treaty provision that the tribe had yet to enforce.

“She’s worked for the Cherokee Nation advocating our interests so it’s certainly a natural fit to nominate her as delegate,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said following her nomination.

Teehee’s background includes serving President Barack Obama as the first-ever senior policy advisor for Native American Affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Council.

“Anyone who talks to me for five minutes will quickly learn that I’m a federal policy and process wonk,” she said. “I love it, as I have seen the good it can do, and have learned from the past about how to prevent devastating policies from ever occurring again. I also love mentoring young people and imparting this knowledge to them.”

Teehee also served as senior advisor to the U.S. House of Representatives Native American Caucus co-chair for nearly 12 years.

“Federal Indian policy has been a significant part of my life because it’s so intertwined in my family experiences from forced removal, allotment, assimilation, boarding school, self-determination to today,” Teehee said. “I’m so blessed to have been able to influence modern policies that put Indians in positions at the highest level in federal government, that support tribal self-determination at historic levels, protect women and children, enhance our tribal health care systems and increase educational and housing opportunities.”

Teehee, who grew up in Claremore and whose parents are Cherokee first language speakers, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Northeastern State University and a graduate degree at the University of Iowa College of Law.

“When I was interested in college, a high school guidance counselor told me that ‘Indians drop out of college’ and that I should go to the vo-tech down the road to learn a trade,” she said. “She never once told me about college prep courses. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with learning a trade, but that’s not what my parents or I had in mind. I knew I was going to earn a four-year degree despite what the guidance counselor said.”

A “close-knit family filled with love and support,” as well as the tribe, Teehee said, backed her higher education aspirations.

“By getting a four-year degree, I had wandered into unchartered territory, as no one in my immediate family had achieved this yet,” she said. “And then when I wanted to go to law school, I did what my parents taught me – ask for help when you need it. So I turned to the tribe for guidance. I was an intern for Chief Wilma Mankiller. She had urged me to go to law school because the courts were starting to have more influence on what tribes do within their boundaries. Cherokee Nation paid for my law school prep course, which I took during the weekends, and also paid for the law school entrance exam.”