Melissa Harris-Perry: This is The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry.
On Wednesday, citizens of Cherokee Nation travel to Washington, DC, for historic congressional hearing.
Chuck Hoskin Jr: The Treaty of New Echota requires, Mr. Chairman, the House to seat our delegate.
Melissa Harris-Perry: That is Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. speaking at the hearing. Now the hearing was a step in a process nearly 200 years delayed. Back in 1835, the Treaty of New Echota promised to seat a non-voting delegate in the House from Cherokee Nation. In 2019, Cherokee Nation nominated Kim Teehee to be its delegate. Here's representative Jamin Raskin framing the issues at stake.
Jamin Raskin: The easy question is, do we have a legal and, I would say, a moral obligation to seat Ms. Teehee? The difficult question is, what does it mean to be a delegate from a nation?
Melissa Harris-Perry: With me now is delegate Kim Teehee, who is citizen of Cherokee Nation, Director of Governmental Relations for Cherokee Nation, and Senior Vice President of Governmental Relations for Cherokee Nation Businesses. Delegate Teehee, thanks for coming on The Takeaway.
Delegate Kim Teehee: Thank you for having me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Tell me a bit about yesterday's hearing. Did lawmakers seem receptive?
Delegate Kim Teehee: They did. It was a historic hearing, and I want to acknowledge the Chairman of the House Rules Committee, Chairman McGovern, and the Ranking Member Tom Cole, for working together on both sides of the aisle to make sure that this hearing came to be and that the members of the committee were educated about this issue.
They asked very thoughtful questions, but I think the overarching theme of the hearing was that we simply cannot acknowledge the treaty right, that we must act on the treaty right. That was pretty much across the board from the members.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Is it necessary to get this done during this lame-duck congressional session of the 117th, or is there any possibility that if this were to extend into the 118th, knowing that the Republicans now have a majority, that this could still happen? In other words, I'm wondering, is this a partisan issue at all?
Delegate Kim Teehee: It's not a partisan issue. We at Cherokee Nation have a history of working on a bipartisan basis. We have allies and supporters on both sides of the aisle. Look, it's been nearly 200 years since this treaty right came to be. We believe in working backwards. We have a goal of getting it done this year. It's been long enough. It's time.
Melissa Harris-Perry: How do you respond to the concern that was articulated that other sovereign tribes would also seek delegate seats?
Delegate Kim Teehee: Cherokee Nation-- It is not disputed at all that Cherokee Nation itself has this treaty right and that the language is very clear. Other tribes-- We've always said there are a couple of other treaties out there involving other tribes. The language is not as clear as ours, but the examination of those treaty rights should not prevent Cherokee Nation's treaty right from moving forward.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Are there legal questions about who has the authority to admit the delegate to the House?
Delegate Kim Teehee: I don't think there are any questions about that. I think the House Rules Committee was pretty clear that Congress has the legal authority to seat delegates in its body. The House of Representatives has the authority to seat delegates, and they've done so since the early days of the Republic.
Melissa Harris-Perry: What difference does it make to have non-voting representation in the US House?
Delegate Kim Teehee: We've seen how US Territory delegates are treated in the House of Representatives. They do not have vote for final passage. That's the distinction, the legal distinction between delegates and representatives in the House. Delegates do have a lot of authority and influence within the body of the House because they get to sit on committee, they get to vote in committee, they get to introduce legislation, speak to legislation. They get to engage with their colleagues on a higher level than perhaps staff or people outside of that institution can do.
I think even though the delegates tend to just participate in the deliberative process of the House, at the end of the day, because they do not have a vote for final passage on the House floor is the legal distinction, but there is still plenty that delegates can do.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Is there any possibility of non-voting delegates from the territories from the city of Washington DC and potentially now from Cherokee Nation? Is there any possibility of ever becoming voting delegates without becoming member states?
Delegate Kim Teehee: I think that would be probably more challenging for Cherokee Nation's delegate position because at that point, I think we could run afoul of the dual representation. Right now, I'm a citizen of Cherokee Nation. I'm a citizen of the state of Oklahoma and I vote for our congressional member. Ours happens to be Cherokee Nation citizen Mark Wayne Mullin, but I, as delegate for Cherokee Nation, represent Cherokee Nation's governmental interest before that body. Keeping the distinction between a representative and a delegate serving in the same area would not run afoul of any dual representation concerns.
Melissa Harris-Perry: By walking us through that, you walked us through the dual representation concern that was addressed or that was brought up during the hearing. The other is the question of what it means to have delegates from other sovereign nations. We talked a bit here about other indigenous tribes but what also about potentially delegates from international community? I think it was also raised.
Delegate Kim Teehee: The delegate position at Cherokee Nation would be different in that, one, it's established by Treaty. Two, that it represents the governmental interest of the Cherokee Nation. That aspect, certainly, is different than how the body of the House has acknowledged delegates previously.
I do think that representation of Cherokee Nation in that body in fulfillment of the Treaty is paramount. It is something that I think the committee acknowledged yesterday as it's doable, it's required in our Treaty, and I think it's something that I think that the House Committee seemed very receptive to.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, Cherokee Nation, at this point, you were appointed in 2019 to the delegate position. Is the thought that going into the future, presuming you're able to take this seat, that this will continue to be an appointed position or that, at some point, it will be an elected position?
Delegate Kim Teehee: Cherokee Nations' own tribal constitution requires that the principal chief appoint a delegate and that the Council of the Cherokee Nation, which is our legislative body, confirm the delegate. That's the method that our own tribe chose to have in the selection process of a delegate, and that that's our law.
I think that that is how we'll proceed. Also, this is not a precedent in the body of the House. Since the early days of the Republic, the body had long ago determined that appointment is the permissible method of selection for people serving in that body.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm wondering if you might also reflect on this within context of what's happening at the level of the Supreme Court as well and these fundamental questions around tribal sovereignty that emerged in [unintelligible 00:08:11] and that are now being considered in what looks on face to be a custody question about the ICWA, about the Indian Child Welfare Act, but could have long-term ramifications around sovereignty.
Does the delegate role and the recognition of an 1835 treaty right help to counter what could be a troubling decision coming out of the court?
Delegate Kim Teehee: Certainly, the Supreme Court has been very active when it comes to rendering decisions affecting Indian tribes. They have examined the treaties of the tribes, which tells us treaties matter, treaties are valid legal instruments in this country. We've seen in a very short period of time the Supreme Court make historic decisions acknowledging the treaties of the tribes. We've also seen the court make some decisions that were not so favorable.
Now we've got a case, as you mentioned before, at the Supreme Court regarding the Indian Child Welfare Act, which is a law that Congress put in place that relate to adoption of Indian children.
Certainly, I think what the court is doing is, on one hand, giving validity to the notion that treaties still live, are still valid today. They also speak to the fragility which is having a decision-making body such as a court rendering decisions whether or not provisions are valid or not. That's the same, which they do when it comes to analyzing congressional laws, too.
It is an interesting time. It's also an historic time because we've seen, on one hand, an administration that has prioritized native issues. We've seen historic appointments with the first ever Native American at cabinet-level position, three Native American federal judges. We see Cherokee Nation asserting this treaty right to have a delegate in the House of Representatives.
We also see that when sometimes, from time to time, the courts, the Supreme Court, in particular, they're capable of making grand decisions that impact Cherokee Nation and other tribes, and they're capable of making decisions that are not so good for us.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Delegate Kim Teehee is a citizen of Cherokee Nation, Director of Government Relations for Cherokee Nation, and Senior Vice President of Government Relations for Cherokee Nation Businesses. Delegate Teehee, I appreciate your time.
Delegate Kim Teehee: Thank you, Melissa. Thank you so much for having me.
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