As delivered during today's original jurisdiction hearing:
We’re here today for an original jurisdiction hearing examining the legal and procedural factors related to seating a delegate from the Cherokee Nation in the House of Representatives.
Before I continue my remarks, I want to personally thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing today. I am hopeful that the discussions that we have today help lay the groundwork for the other committees of jurisdiction to examine this issue in more detail. Regardless, today marks an important first step toward examining the questions and the process surrounding the seating of a delegate from the Cherokee Nation.
As a member of the Chickasaw Nation and co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, I have always voiced my support for the federal government to honor its treaty obligations. For far too long in our nation’s history, the federal government accumulated a sorry record of making promises to tribes and then breaking those promises as soon as it was expedient to do so. Only in recent years has that record improved.
With today’s hearing, we begin examination of a specific promise made in the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, and I certainly welcome the examination of this question by Congress. But it seems clear from the language of the treaty that this right is not self-executing and would require action by Congress to implement.
As we consider this, members of the House have real questions about this issue, and the purpose of today’s hearing is to begin examining those questions in detail.
In addition to basic procedural questions, these questions will include: Are there other tribes that have this right? Why did the tribe choose to select its delegate by council vote rather than by vote of the tribe? Are there concerns about double representation, resulting in constituents being represented both by their geographic Member of Congress and by a delegate from the tribe? Is this arrangement constitutional, and if so, what factors must be considered? How would the seating of a delegate change the character of the House if it did at all? And many more.
I list out these questions for our witnesses to discuss, along with others that will assuredly come up during today’s hearing.
It is important to note that the rights contained in the treaty may be clear, but the resolution of those rights, and how they may be applied, still require great examination and consideration. If the House ultimately decides to move forward, it will only do so after a bipartisan recognition of the claim and a bipartisan process going forward. We should remember that the Cherokee Nation is not the only tribe that has or may have this right, and the process we ultimately follow for this claim may apply to others as well.
I am glad to see tribes advocating for their treaties with such conviction and today’s hearing represents a starting point in that bipartisan process of recognizing tribal treaty rights. However, additional work and consideration is needed, particularly by the other committees of jurisdiction. And I hope the work begun here today continues to carry the process forward, ideally examining all such claims by tribes that possess them.
Finally, I wish to clean up a common misunderstanding about the nature of today’s hearing that I have seen reported in the media. This is a hearing to give Congress an opportunity to understand the issue of seating a delegate to represent the Cherokee Nation. There is no vote on that issue today. Indeed, at present, no legislation has been introduced on this issue.
Today’s hearing is a good first step. But we have a long way to go in the process. Indeed, until legislation is proposed and the issue is taken up by all committees of original jurisdiction, Congress is unlikely to act.
I thank our witnesses for appearing before us today on what I think is an historic hearing, and I look forward to their testimony.