Finally Giving Cherokee Nation A Delegate In The House Is An Ethics No-Brainer

The  treaty imposed on the Cherokee Nation in 1835 facilitated the Trail of Tears, and was the surest sign yet that the eventual fate of North America’s native population was going to be ugly, violent, and tragic. But the Treaty of New Echota, which forced the Cherokee to relinquish their ancestral lands in the South, also included the promise that the Cherokee Nation would be “entitled to a delegate in the House of Representatives of the United States whenever Congress shall make provision for the same.” It is almost 200 years later, and Congress still hasn’t made such a provision.

Well, if we searched the Rationalization List for the excuse for this disgraceful betrayal, we would find several candidates on the very first page, mutations of the hoariest rationalization of all, #1, “Everybody Does It,” but represented by such variations of the theme as, It’s done all the time,”“It’s always been done this way,” “It’s tradition,” “Everybody is used to it,“Everybody accepts it,” and  “It’s too late to change now.” The United States broke too many treaties with the various tribes to count, but this one has an especially ugly story behind it.

On Georgia lands guaranteed by the United States to the Cherokee in yet another, earlier treaty, the tribe was attempting to create a model of what might have allowed all the Native American tribes to flourish in the new European-settled nation that was clearly not to be denied. The Cherokee Nation had foresworn war, was working with white communities, creating commerce and launching a hybrid culture that could be integrated into the U.S. while preserving Indian culture. The plan was working too— too well. Georgia exercised the then-current doctrine of nullification, a states rights principle holding that a state could nullify Federal law. The Georgian legislature wanted the Cherokees’ land, and declared the Federal treaty leaving it in their control null and void. The Cherokee sued Georgia in the U.S. Supreme Court and won. President Jackson, however, even though he had earlier condemned South Carolina’s nullification attempts in the strongest possible terms (Jackson threatened to hang Senator John C. Calhoun with his own hands), hated Indians. In an unprecedented demonstration of abuse of power and raw defiance by a President, “King Andy” refused to enforce the SCOTUS decision and backed Georgia.

This was in 1832; it took three years to hammer out the conditions of the Cherokee removal. Then 16,000 members of the Cherokee Nation began the so-called “Trail of Tears,” a deadly journey to, again, guaranteed land, this time in Oklahoma. About 4,000 of them died  from exposure, starvation and disease on the way.

Now, in 2022, Kim Teehee,  a  Cherokee Nation official, has been selected by the tribe to be its nonvoting delegate in the House and the first delegate from a tribal nation ever to serve there. If she is approved by the House, Teehee would join delegates from the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands. Like the others, Teehee would be able to introduce legislation and sit on committees, but not to have a vote on the House floor.

This minimal acknowledgement of the Cherokee was the right, ethical and legal course almost 200 years ago. It still is, except that the inexcusable delay just adds one more layer to the United States’ government’s terrible history of stolen lands, broken promises and minimal justice regarding Native Americans. There may be other tribes with similar legitimate claims to a presence in Congress. The Delaware Nation, which signed a treaty with the United States in 1778, and the Choctaw Nation, which signed the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek of 1830 also claim that they bargained for delegates in the House.

Then give them what they deserve too.

Representative Tom Cole (R-Ok), told reporters that he was “glad to see tribes advocating for their treaties with such conviction” and added,  “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”

Yes, and it’s also impossible to make up for delaying doing the right thing for nearly 200 years.

The issue has to have hearings, and if Republicans get difficult, the resolution of the matter could drag on again. The American people should make it clear that this needs to happen, and now. It is far from justice, but at least the delegate will provide some small compensation for a terrible part of American history.

Just do it.

11 thoughts on “Finally Giving Cherokee Nation A Delegate In The House Is An Ethics No-Brainer

  1. What about the other, smaller, Cherokee Nations (one also nearby in OK, but the Eastern Band all the way over in NC)? Maybe the NC folks can get Liz Warren.

    The restored and rebuilt parts of New Echota look like any other white settlement of the time; church, schoolhouse, etc. They did about all they could to assimilate. Ironically, just a bit to the southeast of there is “Cherokee” county.

  2. I think Andrew Jackson then said something to the effect of, “Mr Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”. Interestingly, when the Dobbs decision came down this summer, a lot of media personalities, including Uber jerk Keith Olberman, said to ignore it, because the Supreme Court could not enforce its decision on its own. I wonder, if Keith knew he was channeling Andrew Jackson, who is now hated by his own party, wouldn’t it taste like shit in his mouth?

    • Keith Oberman is an idiot and does not understand Dobbs. If a state passes a law restricting abortion SCOTUS has to do nothing anyway. The state will enforce its own laws. Furthermore, if a state law is challenged the SCOTUS is not obligated to take up the case.

  3. The discovery of gold in the Dahlonega, Georgia area in 1829 was the triggering event which led directly to the Indian Removal Act and Georgia’s harsh measures against the Cherokee. When the Cherokee were forbidden from holding councils in Georgia after the New Echota treaty, they moved their “capitol” to the Red Clay Council Grounds just across the state line in Tennessee (about five miles from my home) for the remainder of their time in the east before being moved to the Indian Territory.
    The Eastern Band was started by about 800 Cherokee who resisted the removal and hid out in the North Carolina mountains. The government eventually relented and allowed them to remain on remote traditional tribal lands that they inhabited until purchasing them (and more) in later decades.
    The Treaty of New Echota was approved by a Cherokee “Treaty Party” faction of only about 500. A petition against the treaty was signed by over 16,000 Cherokees but was of course ignored by the U.S. government. I have been a student of Cherokee history for many years, and I believe the arguments for and against the treaty boiled down to these: Those who supported the treaty wanted an opportunity for the nation to preserve its culture, traditions and language, realizing that much had already been lost in their attempts to be “civilized” and coexist with the whites. They felt that their best chance to do this was in moving to the Indian Territory. Those Cherokee who opposed the treaty wanted the same things but thought they could use the white man’s legal system to remain in the east. They also feared that the white man would eventually break any treaty that was made anyway. (The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.) Many Cherokees today believe that the removal did prevent the Cherokee from being totally assimilated and essentially disappearing into the mists of history.
    Cherokee history is ubiquitous in this area. I have a number of arrowheads that we have found in our fields and on our wooded hills. Living here for most of my life, I understand why they loved this land so much and fought so hard to remain here until the handwriting was on the wall, figuratively speaking.
    I am glad to see the treaty provision finally being followed.

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