For the first time in nearly 200 years, a member of an Indigenous tribal nation may have a seat in Congress.
The House Rules Committee held a first-of-its-kind hearing last week to discuss potentially adding a non-voting delegate to represent the Cherokee Nation in Congress. The provision was written into the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, which promises the Cherokee Nation a delegate in Congress in exchange for Southern tribal lands. The exchange led to forced western migration along the Trail of Tears, leaving nearly a quarter of the Cherokee population dead along the way.
Cherokee Nation officials are advocating for Kim Teehee to represent the group as a non-voting delegate in the House, similar to that of the District of Columbia, Guam, and other United States territories. While Teehee would not have the ability to vote on legislation, she would be able to vote in committee sessions and speak on the House floor.
Teehee is optimistic that the measure could be put into place this year.
“It’s never been done before," Teehee said on Meet the Press Now on Thursday. "What impressed me was how well informed the members were, how thoughtful they were. But also, more importantly, the comments they made were made on a bipartisan basis, and they were supported."
Teehee says her presence in Congress could open the door for other tribal nations with similar treaties to have representation in Congress.
“It gives Cherokee Nation a seat at the table when formulating laws that impact us, but impacts other tribes, too," Teehee said, "It gives us a unique opportunity to educate members about tribes in this country, about ways in which we need to adequately address the great needs of Indian country."
Teehee's seat differs from other congressional delegates in that she was appointed by principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, Cherokee Chuck Hoskin Jr., rather than elected. Both Cherokee Nation officials and members of Congress have signaled support for opening the position up to an elected role.
House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, (D-Mass.) said at the conclusion of last week's hearing, “This can and should be done as quickly as possible. That is my view. The history of this country is a history of broken promise after broken promise to Native American communities. This cannot be another broken promise.”
But the next steps are not yet clear. Lawmakers discussed various options to seat a new delegate at last week's hearing, per the New York Times, including adding a provision to the House rules package for the next Congress, which would also need to be approved every two years at the start of a new legislative session.
Teehee, though, remains optimistic.
"The stars are completely aligning," Teehee said, "This is the most diverse Congress in my lifetime, the most women in Congress in my lifetime. And I hope to join them next year."