In the last week, the Cherokee Nation decided to invoke Article 7 of the 1835 Treaty of New Echota, an agreement between the Cherokee and the United States government which stipulates “that they (the Cherokee Tribe) shall be entitled to a delegate in the House of Representatives of the United States whenever Congress shall make provision for the same.” Most people read this provision as the Cherokee Nation being entitled to a delegate in the House of Representatives, similar to how residents of Puerto Rico, Guam and the District of Columbia all have their own non-voting delegate in Congress. While unable to directly vote on legislation, these delegates can still introduce legislation, vote to pass legislation through committees, off amendments to bills and speak on the House floor.
The Cherokee Nation’s decision to nominate Kimberly Teehee, former advisor to Indian Affairs under President Obama, may mean that members of the Cherokee Nation would have two representatives in Congress, one representing the congressional district in which the tribe member resides in addition to the delegate of the Cherokee Nation itself. However, it would not be unreasonable to create a system so that members of the Cherokee Tribe can either register to vote as a member of the tribe or as a resident of their respective congressional district, to resolve the issue of double representation.
Yet this brings up the question of whether a non-voting delegate to Congress is truly representation. In reality, is one truly enfranchised if their delegate can participate in the whole process other than the voting on the bill itself? While one could argue that a non-voting member that only represents the Cherokee Nation would be less prone to corporate lobbyists and more accountable to their constituents, what is the actual effectiveness of this greater accountability when it comes at the cost of enfranchisement of the group at the national level? What would drive people to register to vote for their Cherokee representative over their geographic Congressional Representative?
There is no question that the Cherokee Nation (as well as other Native American Tribes) should have a seat at the table when it comes to the running of the country; Native Americans are some of the most vulnerable citizens in the United States, and their plight is largely overlooked by the federal government. Teehee’s proposal to make funding to Native American groups mandatory funding rather than discretionary (as in the event of a shutdown, tribal funds are essentially frozen, while other social service programs operate relatively as normal) provides insight on tribal issues that only a member of a tribe would even be aware to think of and to advocate for NPR. Yet these ideas will ultimately be implemented solely by other members of Congress, whose ability to vote gives them the agency to actually put these laws into action.
The question of agency can only be resolved in a truly democratic manner by ensuring that all citizens of the U.S. are enfranchised by having a respective representative in Congress. I cannot see anything wrong with expanding the House and Senate to include fully voting members from Native American tribes, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, Guam and all other United States possessions. The right to vote is a right, but that right is meaningless if the federal government denies a seat for you to vote for. As long as we adhere to the policy of one person one vote, the only objections that could be raised to this policy would be purely political in nature. In a nation where districts are gerrymandered and congress-people are bribed by wealthy corporations, there is absolutely no excuse for us as a nation to not push for a legislative body that is more representative of our country’s population.
Cameron Cantelmo is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.