The Cherokee Nation is looking to bring about the fulfillment of an over-200-year-old promise from the United States government. In the 18th and 19th centuries, treaties signed between the two parties promised the Cherokee Nation a seat at the table—with its own delegate in the House of Representatives. Earlier this month Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. made clear the time is now for his people to have that representation.
Chief Hoskin nominated Kimberly Teehee, 50, the tribe’s vice president of government relations and former senior policy adviser for Native American affairs in the Obama administration to be the nonvoting delegate. The Cherokee Nation has voted to confirm Teehee, and she has received support from Native Americans in office like Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.).
“The government must always uphold its treaty obligations, and the United States government promised the Cherokee Nation’s right to a delegate when it entered into the Treaty of New Echota. Rights granted through treaties do not expire. Chief Hoskin has taken an important first step in this process by naming a delegate—Kimberly Teehee is well-known in Indian Country and I look forward to learning more about the process as we move forward,” Rep. Haaland tells Glamour.
While there are already several nonvoting delegates in the House of Representatives—from Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands—this appointment would be especially historic as Teehee would be the first delegate from a sovereign Native American government.
As she prepares to stake her claim to a seat in Congress, Glamour spoke to Teehee about her work with President Obama, what she learned from Gloria Steinem, and how she hopes to be a role model.
Glamour: You were just confirmed by Cherokee Nation to hopefully be their first delegate to Congress. Congratulations! What was the nomination, and subsequent confirmation process, like?
Kimberly Teehee: When Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. was sworn in this August, one of the very first things he wanted to do was exercise our treaty rights that provide for a Cherokee delegate in the House of Representatives. And he nominated me to be that delegate. When I went before the council to be confirmed, it was truly historic. I just feel very blessed, humbled, and honored that our elected leaders of the tribe have unanimously approved my role as delegate to the House of Representatives. But we also know we have our work cut out for us. That’s just our part of the treaty rights. We still need to work with our delegation and leadership in the House of Representatives on the framework of how this is going to work within the Congress.
Why do you and Chief Hoskin feel that now—with this administration and this president in the White House—is the right time to renew your push to have a Cherokee Nation delegate to Congress? And how are you gearing up to fight to get this through Congress?
I don’t look at it as “Why now?” as much as I look at it as “Why not now?” We are a sovereign nation that is capable of exercising a sovereign right to move forward with appointing a delegate to honor our treaties. We’ve had great success as Cherokee Nation working with Congress and working with this administration. Whether it was trying to get legislation supported or trying get in the president’s budget—we were successful at doing those things. So again it’s not “Why now?” but “Why not now that Indian Country has stronger footing, more champions in Congress than ever before, and that we’ve had success working on both sides of the aisle?’ It just seems the right time to do it.