Opinion | Congress should honor Cherokee treaty pledge

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Two hundred and thirty-eight years ago, immediately after the American Revolution against the British Empire, representatives of the former colonies, then governed under the Confederacy and Permanent Union, reached a treaty with the Cherokee people. Among the many issues raised by the Hopewell Agreement was the question of how indigenous peoples could make their voices heard in the new systems of government that were emerging in the US. Whenever they think they have the right to send any deputy to Congress.”

This commitment was reaffirmed and clarified by the US government – in the now more formal provisions of the US Constitution – half a century later in the Treaty of New Echota in 1835. That infamous document was written as President Andrew Jackson’s administration plotted to effectuate the forced removal of the Cherokee people from their historic lands east of the Mississippi River through the “Trail of Tears.” Oklahoma.

The treaty’s backstory recalls what The New York Times called “one of the darkest moments in American history and one of broken promises to indigenous peoples across the country.”

As The Times noted: “The treaty led the US government to force 16,000 members of the Cherokee Nation onto the Trail of Tears; This fatal hike is now known as Oklahoma. A quarter of those forced to leave – about 4,000 – died before they arrived, due to harsh conditions, starvation and disease.

However, the treaty of 1835 reaffirmed the right of congressional representation and expressly stated that the Cherokee nation “had the right to be represented in the House of Representatives of the United States whenever Congress proposed a provision for the Exposition.” the same.

Unfortunately – perhaps unsurprisingly, knowing the US government’s history of mistreatment of Native Americans – Congress never enacted the provision. Not during the tenure of Jackson and many of his Democratic successors, or of Abraham Lincoln and many of his Republican successors.

The promise of congressional representation, like other promises made to the first peoples of North America, was broken by the first 117 Congresses of the United States. And now it’s floundering in the 118th Congress — even though four years ago a delegation named by the Cherokee Nation is ready, willing and able to serve.

The aforementioned Cherokee Nation representative to the US House of Representatives, Kim Taehee, said in early November, “Congress should celebrate Native American Heritage Month by finally putting a Cherokee Nation representative in the US House!” He said.

“Having a Cherokee Nation representative is not just about representation,” Tehey said. It is about justice, recognition and reconciliation. Our perspective is missing from discussions that affect not only our people but the nation as a whole.

She is right. But that will only happen if members of Congress from Wisconsin and other states choose to act. Too many promises of compromise have been broken. This should be kept.

John Nichols is an associate editor of the Capital Times. jnichols@captimes.com And @NicholsUprising

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