The Cherokee Nation is taking the U.S. government up on an offer made nearly 200 years ago and will be sending its first-ever representative to Congress.
As CNN reported, the Native American nation said that it intends to appoint a delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, a promise that the federal government made in an 1835 treaty when the Indian tribe was forced to leave their homes in the southeast and travel to Oklahoma. The forced removal is today seen as one of the worst human rights violations in American history, a treacherous march known as the “Trail of Tears” that led to the deaths of nearly 4,000 members of various Cherokee tribes. In return for being forced from their land, the federal government offered a compensation package that included an offer to send a representative to Congress.
The Cherokee Nation has now decided to take the federal government up on the offer. As CNN noted, there are still a number of questions about what this representative will be able to do in Congress — or if the federal government will still honor the offer made nearly 200 years ago.
Experts see the move as part of a concerted effort from Native American tribes to demand the rights that the U.S. government had afforded in treaties, rights that critics say have long been encroached on and not held up by the federal government.
“We have to recognize that we imposed a genocide on tribes and we imposed harsh measures toward any government structure that they had,” Ezra Rosser, a law professor at American University, told CNN. “To me, it’s not surprising that it would take somewhat deep into the self-determination era for tribes to be in a position to assert some of these rights.”
As The New Republic reported, the decision to appoint a representative appears to be driven by Chuck Hoskin Jr., who in June was elected as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation on a promise to unify the Cherokee people. Hoskin proposed Kimberly Teehee for the job, and the report noted that she seemed a natural fit after serving as an adviser to President Barack Obama.
The decision was a long time coming, the report noted, as the Cherokee Nation had previously studied the idea and even took exploratory steps in 2017 before ultimately deciding to wait. Hoskin had prepared for the move during his previous role as secretary of state for the Cherokee Nation, and said that now is the right time and Teehee is the right person for the job.