Cherokee Nation to have a seat in the House of Representatives

Everything old is new again. In this case, hundreds of years old. If you thought our government couldn’t wind up entrenched in any other really obscure issues, how about our ongoing relations with the Cherokee Nation? It appears that they’re going to be sending a representative to Congress in the near future. If that sounds like something they shouldn’t be able to do, I’d probably agree with you were it not for the fact that we apparently promised them a seat back in 1835 and our government today is probably still on the hook to make good on the deal. (CNN)

The Cherokee Nation announced Thursday that it intends to appoint a delegate to the US House of Representatives, asserting for the first time a right promised to the tribe in a nearly 200-year-old treaty with the federal government.

It was a historic step for the Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation and its nearly 370,000 members, coming about a week after Chuck Hoskin Jr. was sworn in as principal chief of the tribe. The Cherokee Nation says it’s the largest tribal nation in the US and one of three federally recognized Cherokee tribes.

The move raises questions about what that representation in Congress would look like and whether the US will honor an agreement it made almost two centuries ago.

So will we agree to this? Particularly in the current climate of social justice activity, it would be a massively unpopular choice to turn them down. Not to mention the fact that we’re supposed to honor our treaties.

Keep in mind that the treaty in question was the one that resulted in what came to be known as the Trail of Tears as the Cherokee were moved out to new lands with massive numbers of them dying in the process. And then, of course, there’s the whole genocide thing. We promised them a seat in the House as part of that deal. It would be pretty ugly if we didn’t make good on the promise now.

Provided this is a non-voting seat, I don’t see why it would be much of a problem. We already have several of those, representing the District of Columbia and a few territories. That gives them the chance to have their voices heard without upsetting the balance of power. Now, if they want a voting seat, that’s going to complicate matters considerably.

Getting back to that whole idea of honoring our treaties, this could wind up being a slippery slope. We drew up a lot of treaties with the Native Americans back in the day and some of them are still floating around out there. Growing up, I still remember seeing news reports about the tribes of the former Iroquois Nation in New York State having one that promised them all of the land in New York west of the Hudson River and north of the Mohawk River “for as long as the winds shall blow and the sun shall shine” or something along those lines. That’s well over half the state.

Still, a deal’s a deal, right? Don’t be shocked if you see some more of these documents turning up in court in the coming years.