Things That Matter

The Cherokee Nation Was Promised Congressional Representation Nearly 200 Years Ago And Now They’re Demanding It

Fact: the US was built on stolen land. Plain and simple.

When European colonists arrived in what is today the United States, there were already an estimated 10 million Native Americans living across the continent. They formed their own independent nations and were rich in customs, culture, and identity. 

As the US expanded its territory, it engaged in the wholesale slaughter of entire tribes. For those tribes that negotiated or worked with the US in some capacity, the government often signed treaties. These treaties basically promised the tribe would avoid slaughter if they relocated to new lands completely separate from their ancestral home. With at least one tribe, the Cherokee, their treaty also promised them representation in the US Congress.

It’s been almost 200 years since the US signed a treaty with the Cherokee people and the tribe is demanding the US fulfill one of its promises.

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.

In a press release, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said, “As Native issues continue to rise to the forefront of the national dialogue, now is the time for Cherokee Nation to execute a provision in our treaties,” Chief Hoskin said.

“It’s a right negotiated by our ancestors in two treaties with the federal government and reaffirmed in the Treaty of 1866, and reflected in our Constitution. At Cherokee Nation, we are exercising our treaty rights and strengthening our sovereignty.” He added: ““The Cherokee Nation honors its treaties with the United States. Whether the United States will likewise honor its promises to the Cherokee Nation is a question that only its elected leaders can answer.” 

It was a historic step for the Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation and its nearly 370,000 citizens, 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.

The Tribal Council has already sworn in it’s new delegates, including their representative to Congress.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.’s cabinet and Congressional delegate nominations were unanimously confirmed by the Council of the Cherokee Nation during a special meeting Thursday.

The council confirmed governmental cabinet positions including the Secretaries of State and Veterans Affairs, along with the Attorney General and Treasurer.

So who is their nominee to represent the tribe in Congress?

Before she became the Cherokee Nation’s vice president of government relations in 2014, Kim Teehee served as senior policy adviser for Native American affairs in President Barack Obama’s White House. Before that, she was already working in Congress as an adviser on indigenous issues.

“Kim Teehee will be a tremendous asset to our team as we work to strengthen and build on the Nation-to-Nation relationship between the United States and tribal nations,” Obama said in a 2009 statement that announced her appointment at the time. “She is rightly recognized as an outstanding advocate for Indian Country, and she will provide a direct interface at the highest level of my administration, assuring a voice for Native Americans during policy-making decisions.”

“This is a historic moment for Cherokee Nation and our citizens. I am truly humbled Chief Hoskin has nominated me for this extraordinary responsibility,” said Teehee, the tribe’s nominee for the position. “I remain supportive of his vision for the future of our tribal government and grateful for the opportunity to serve the great Cherokee Nation.”

Although the tribe is moving to get what’s owed to them, no one is quite sure what the representation in Congress might look like.

Hoskin told CNN that the position might look similar to the nonvoting representatives from the District of Columbia or U.S. territories like Puerto Rico. Currently, the Cherokee Nation comprises 370,000 people worldwide, according to its website, and Hoskin said the tribe is in an “unprecedented” position of strength.

The Treaty of Hopewell laid out the congressional provision in Article XII, stating, “That the Indians may have full confidence in the justice of the United States, respecting their interests, they shall have the right to send a deputy of their choice, whenever they think fit, to Congress.”

The tribe said that a third treaty from 1866 “reaffirms all previous treaties between the Cherokee Nation and the United States.”

For too long, US treaties with native tribes meant death, erasure, and lies. 

The history of treaties between the U.S. government and indigenous nations is a troubled one, often marked by breaches on the government’s side. 

Even when the treaties have been honored, they often resulted in tribal displacement.

According to Smithsonian magazine, the 1835 Treaty of New Echota (which the Cherokee Nation referenced in its announcement on Thursday) was used as grounds to remove the Cherokee from their lands along what became known as the Trail of Tears, a grueling journey that killed thousands. But the tribal leadership says that treaty and the 1785 Treaty of Hopewell granted the right to representation in Congress, a guarantee they now want to make good on.

Many on Twitter applauded the tribe’s decision to hold the US to it’s commitment.

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It’s Time For The US To Adopt Indigenous Peoples’ Day In Place Of Columbus Day

Culture

It’s Time For The US To Adopt Indigenous Peoples’ Day In Place Of Columbus Day

Tony Anderson / Getty Images

Today is INdigenous People’s Day. While some people still try to celebrate Christopher Columbus Day, many cities across the country have replace the day with Indigenous People’s Day to honor and respect the indigenous people of this land. It is also a way to set the record straight and tell the true history of Christopher Columbus’ legacy.

Indigenous People’s Day is slowly replacing Christopher Columbus Day, as it should tbh.

For years, we have all been told about how Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” to discover America in 1492. Teachers told us that he came to the New World and helped to develop it into a place where Europeans could colonize and better the land. However, that is not the way that Native American descendants remember that violent moment in history.

The reclaimed holiday is shining a light on the resilience and plight in native communities.

The Native American communities faced untold horror and devastation when the Europeans began arriving. The French, English, and Spanish participated in decimating the Native communities through disease and war to take land that belonged to the various tribes.

“Well, if we’re truly wanted to celebrate the progress that we’ve made in this country, then Indigenous Peoples’ Day is completely fitting because we were meant to be completely either killed off or assimilated into mainstream society, and we’re still here,” Rep. Deb Haaland told Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day gives Americans a chance to learn the true history of this nation.

Native communities have known for centuries how brutal Columbus was to the First Nations people in the U.S. The colonizer used smallpox and a slew of other diseases to kill off Native Americans to take the land. It is brutal history that has long been buried and sugar-coated for school children, much like slavery in history textbooks. It is a disservice to the American people and the resilient Native American communities to continue to ignore the true brutal magnitude of Columbus.

Several states are replacing Columbus Day with holidays honoring the indigenous communities of the U.S.

Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Washington D.C. all observe a holiday for indigenous people instead of Columbus. Alabama and Oklahoma recognize both holidays.

Recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a minimal and impactful way to honor indigenous people.

It doesn’t really change anything. Instead of spending the day sleeping in and off work in honor of a colonizer, you can spend a day sleeping in and off of work in honor of indigenous people.

“Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a way to honor the people who lived and thrived on this continent before colonization,” Rep. Haaland said in a video honoring the holiday. “The celebration of this day is a long time coming. Activists, community organizers, and the indigenous community worked hard lobbying lawmakers, hosting rallies, and showing tour culture proudly wherever we go so that we could finally correct the record and recognize the real history of this country.”

READ: People On Twitter Are Dropping Real Christopher Columbus Knowledge For Indigenous Peoples Day

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A Federal Court Ruling Could Finally Put Much Needed Stimulus Funds In The Hands Of Native Tribes

Things That Matter

A Federal Court Ruling Could Finally Put Much Needed Stimulus Funds In The Hands Of Native Tribes

Sharon Shischilly / Getty Images

Indigenous communities in the Unites States have often been forgotten or deliberately excluded from federal policy. Many nations have been forced to go it alone and, as Covid-19 ravages Native lands, many tribe members have died.

After more than two centuries of exclusion, amid a global epidemic, Indigenous communities are once again being excluded from the decision-making process in Washington even as Covid-19 devastates their communities.

But while Indigenous peoples haven’t always had success before the courts, there has been real momentum of late. In July, the Supreme Court recognized roughly half of Oklahoma as Indigenous land, in a ruling that will have far-reaching consequences in the state justice system and beyond.

Now, Native Americans are having to fight once again for what they’re owed as the federal government distributes the more than $150 billion in stimulus money. More than a dozen Indigenous organizations warned, starting in early April, that if the Trump administration did not listen to tribal governments, they ran the risk of turning the relief package into a “grave injustice.”

A federal judge has ordered the Trump administration to give Native tribes their withheld stimulus money.

Credit: Sam Wasson / Getty Images

Frustrated and disgusted that it has taken so long for the Treasury Department to distribute federal stimulus funds to Native American tribes, a federal judge ordered Secretary Steve Mnuchin to distribute the money immediately, according to HuffPost. The judge said that tribes should have received their portion of the CARES Act months ago when other Americans received theirs.

The decision from U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta was particularly critical of Mnuchin’s decision to hold back $679 million in funding set aside for tribes while waiting on a decision in another case that will determine whether tribal businesses are eligible for the funding, as The Hill reported.

In his ruling, Mehta said “Continued delay in the face of an exceptional public health crisis is no longer acceptable.”

Over the past three months, the Treasury Department has managed to send out billions of dollars in loans to small businesses, checks to families and aid to corporations. But distributing the $8 billion pot set aside for tribal governments has proved more difficult. As a result, tribes, already critically underfunded and among the nation’s most vulnerable communities, have not received all the money they need to weather the pandemic and begin recovering from the economic toll.

“Congress made a policy judgment that tribal governments are in dire need of emergency relief to aid in their public health efforts and imposed an incredibly short time limit to distribute those dollars,” he wrote in an order released late Monday night. “The 80 days they have waited, when Congress intended receipt of emergency funds in less than half that time, is long enough.”

Some tribes were owed $12 million in federal funding and yet got nothing from the government.

Credit: Mark Ralson / Getty Images

Much of the fault is with the Treasury Department which counted the populations of Native tribes differently that Congress had intended. This meant that some tribes would end up with zero funding while some for-profit tribal companies could end up with millions.

Since some tribes do not have a designated reservation or service area, their population counts were listed as zero and they received only the minimum $100,000 allocation.

“We are not races — we are sovereign nations,” said Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe. He added “How can a tribe have zero people?” noting that more than 3,000 people belong to his tribe. “It was a simple clerical error, but no one at Treasury tried to fix it.”

The oversight was even more egregious, Barnes said, because there is also a census count that, while not completely accurate, would have ensured the tribe got closer to the $12 million it believes it is entitled to based on enrollment numbers.

As the legal wrangling continues, the picture on the ground is disastrous.

The Indian Health Service (IHS) reports there have been nearly 33,000 COVID-19 cases reported to IHS, tribal, and urban Indian health organizations. In May, the outbreak in the Navajo Nation surpassed New York as the highest infection rate in the country—today, its infection rate is double any state. Today, the nation has more cases, in terms of raw numbers, than several states.

And while the funding threats and lack of resources threaten everyone, Indigenous elders—sometimes the only remaining speakers of nearly lost languages—face particular danger.

In recent years, there have been furious efforts to collect Indigenous histories and preserve nearly lost Indigenous languages. COVID-19 threatens to undo much of that work as it cuts through the elderly population.

“COVID-19, like many diseases, renders Indigenous elders—our knowledge-keepers and language holders—particularly susceptible to illness and death,” wrote Gina Starblanket and Dallas Hunt, two Indigenous professors and writers in the Globe and Mail in late March. “This virus not only places us at risk, but the future well-being of coming generations as well

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