Kimberly Teehee of the Cherokee Nation may make history by joining congress as the tribe’s first delegate. Chosen by Chuck Hoskin Jr., chief of the Cherokee Nation, Teehee is a candidate who will be able to leverage her twenty years of experience in politics to be a strong and effective advocate for the Nation; most recently, she worked as a senior policy adviser for Native American affairs during President Obama’s first term in office. Once the Cherokee Nation confirms Teehee as their delegate, they will turn to confront the unknowns that may very well become obstacles in her path to Congress. “We have to work with Congress on provisions for this to occur, and to develop a certain framework to allow a delegate to be seated in Congress,” Teehee told the New York Times. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself.”
Chief Hoskin initiated her confirmation process in mid-August, though the opportunity to have a delegate from the Cherokee Nation has been available for nearly two centuries through the 1835 Treaty of New Echota, an agreement struck between some members of the Cherokee Nation and the US government. It was the same treaty that laid the legal groundwork for the Trail of Tears, resettling much of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma with the promise that they would be able to represent themselves in Congress.
Today, carrying the scars of genocide, the Cherokee Nation is ready to demand this opportunity to be represented by a delegate. “Over 184 years ago, our ancestors bargained for a guarantee that we would always have a voice in the Congress,” Hoskin explained in a statement to the press. “It is time for the United States to uphold its end of the bargain.”
Having representation, even without having a chamber vote, will go a long way to raise the visibility of the Cherokee Nation, as well as all Native American tribes who have been rendered invisible by historical and modern day American policies. “It’s imperative that we elect people to Congress who have at least some foundational knowledge of Indian tribes and have a willingness to fall on the sword to protect the legal relationship that the tribes have with the United States,” Teehee told The New Republic. “When we don’t have those champions in Congress, then we see bad policies. And the victims at the end of the day are the people in our communities.”