Nearly 200 years ago, the Cherokee Nation signed the Treaty of New Echota (1835) with the United States. They were forcibly moved from the Southeastern part of the United States to Oklahoma. One thing they would receive as compensation: The Cherokees would be allowed to appoint one member to Congress. They recently appointed Kimberly Teehee.
“The impediments of the past to action… [have] been because there had been an educational gap. And I really believe that the timing couldn't be any better,” Teehee says. “Over time, certainly in the 11 years that I was on the Hill, by the time I left, anti-Indian proposals were being defeated, rarely being offered, and proactive legislation was going through...So I think the education gap I’m referring to was more within the Congress itself."
She adds that there's a greater appreciation for Native American issues, and Indian tribes are taking their concerns and issues more directly to Capitol Hill.
However, the Cherokee Nation and the U.S. had a "horrific shared history," Teehee points out. She doesn't want that to get lost in discussions about the 1835 treaty and delegate provision. That history led to the forced removal of Cherokee citizens from the east to Oklahoma, known as the Trail of Tears. Many Native Americans regard Indian removal as nothing less than genocide.
“My ancestors, a quarter of our population at the time, mainly being elderly and children, perished during that forced march," she says. "So when I say that we’re talking about this particular provision, about a delegate, we cannot forget the blood, sweat, and tears that occurred as a result of the signing of that particular treaty. And to have that kind of provision to ensure that kind of negative policy never gets implemented, or even developed, ever again.”