(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.
Here’s what’s at stake.
Why is this happening now?
The Cherokee Nation’s right to appoint a delegate stems from the same treaty that the US government used to forcibly remove the tribe from its ancestral lands.
As a result of the 1835 Treaty of New Echota, the Cherokee were ultimately made to leave their hoems in the Southeast for present-day Oklahoma in exchange for money and other compensation. Nearly 4,000 members of the tribe died of disease, starvation, and exhaustion on the journey now known as the Trail of Tears.
A delegate in the House of Representatives was one of the ways the US government promised to compensate the Cherokee Nation.
So why is the tribe only taking up the offer now?
Ezra Rosser, a law professor at American University, told CNN that the US government has long made it difficult for tribes to exercise rights afforded to them in treaties. But now, tribes are asserting themselves in a way that demands the attention of non-Native Americans.
“We have to recognize that we imposed a genocide on tribes and we imposed harsh measures toward any government structure that they had,” Ezra Rosser said. “To me, it’s not surprising that it would take somewhat deep into the self-detemination era for tribes to be in a position to assert some of these rights.”
Hoskin echoed that statement, telling CNN that ” the Cherokee Nation is today in a position of strength that I think is unprecedented in its history.”
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