Two Cherokee tribes contest request for Congressional delegate seat

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Two Cherokee tribes are asking the U.S. House of Representatives to delay the seating of a non-voting Cherokee delegate until considerations can be made for the two tribes that didn’t get to testify before Congress last fall.

Last November, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. testified before the House Rules Committee that it was time for the Federal Government to uphold its end of a treaty that initiated The Trail of Tears nearly two centuries ago. The Treaty of New Echota was an agreement between the Federal Government and the Cherokee tribe signed in 1835 that forced the relocation of the Cherokee people to Oklahoma territory in exchange for a non-voting delegate in Congress.

During the historic hearing before Congress last year, Hoskin said Cherokee Nation Delegate Kim Teehee should be seated because the tribe upheld its end of the agreement, but the Federal Government never has. Democrats and Republicans were very receptive of finally seating a Cherokee delegate even calling it long overdue.

However, two Cherokee tribes outside of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma are claiming they too are entitled to having a delegate in Congress, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina.

“If Congress is going to do something they need to do it right,” said Tori Holland, UKB Congressional Delegate.

Holland is who the UKB has selected to be their delegate in Congress should one be seated. She said the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma under Hoskin is passing itself off as the sole organization that can handle Cherokee business and has the rights established by their ancestors, but she said the organization the Federal Government negotiated with during the New Treaty of Echota no longer exists.

“The last members on the Dawes Rolls has deceased. Therefore the actual historic Cherokee Nation is no longer there,” Holland said about how the Federal Government has handled Cherokee membership in the past.

Holland said all three Cherokee tribes are equally entitled to the rights of their Cherokee ancestors as “successors and interests”.

The UKB and the Eastern Band argue that when the Cherokee Nation presented its case before the House Rules Committee, it did not represent the two other Cherokee groups also entitled to the seat. Holland said the two groups would like to make their case before Congress about the treaty obligations being upheld and the possibility of all three Cherokee tribes being treated as “siblings”.

“If they seat one, then they need to seat all. All three Cherokee tribes are entitled to that delegate,” Holland said.

Unlike the UKB, the Eastern Band has not named a delegate to Congress, and requests for comment were not returned to FOX23 News in time for the story.

“We’re certainly hopeful that Congress will keep its promise and will seat all of the Cherokee delegates,” Holland said. “We were disappointed that we weren’t invited to the hearing held in November. But yes we certainly would be interested in having a hearing and education Congress about this important issue.”

The UKB and the Eastern Band have hired lobbyists to advocate on their behalf in Washington D.C. while members of Congress navigate how to proceed. For now, the question is causing the seating of a non-voting delegate to be delayed.

A non-voting delegate is similar to what Guam and Puerto Rico have in which they have a voice in Congress, but they do not have a vote and cannot effect the make up of the majority party in charge.

FOX23 spoke with Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. who said the Cherokee Nation delegate would not just advocate for the interests of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, but it would be a conduit between the Federal Government and numerous tribes across the country who need help with Federal affairs on numerous issues. He called it a historic win for all Native Americans.

“This is going to benefit every tribe in this country,” Hoskin said. “If we pull each other down while we’re asserting a treaty right, we’re not going to collectively prosper. It’s a big of a fool’s errand on their part to be knocking down our effort. They ought to get behind it like the rest of Indian Country.”

Hoskin said historic, academic and legal research and opinions the tribe has shows it is the primary handler of Cherokee business in modern America.

“I’m going to work with those tribes, and I do, but I’m not going to sign on to a fiction that those tribes have any treaty rights under the treaties we’re talking about,” Hoskin said.

He went on to say while he understands this could delay the proceedings, he is confident in the end Teehee would be seated in the U.S. House as the delegate.

“We’ve waited a long time for this to happen, and it looks like it will take a little longer,” Hoskin said. “But in the end, we will be successful in getting the seat that is owed to us.”

FOX23 spoke with a couple of members of Congress off camera to test the waters of what the challenge means for the future of a Cherokee delegate being seated, and we were told many members believe the Cherokee tribes need to sort it out among themselves before asking Congress to move forward. It was even described as Congress not needing to “figure out who is a real Cherokee”, and if the conflict lasted for a long time, the seating of a delegate would not happen or lose its momentum it has now.

Holland said in June the three Cherokee tribes will meet together in North Carolina in the Eastern Band’s land, and she expects the three sides to begin trying to find a path forward on how to come to an agreement on the delegate.