The U.S. Capitol is seen at dusk, January 21, 2018 in Washington, DC.

The U.S. Capitol is seen at dusk, January 21, 2018 in Washington, DC. / Getty Images

Congress held its first hearing about establishing a non-voting delegate seat for the Cherokee Nation on Wednesday. The historic move is the closest the federal government has gotten toward satisfying a promise it made to the Cherokee Nation nearly 200 years ago.

The federal government never fulfilled a provision made in the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, signed by then-president Andrew Jackson, promising the Cherokee Nation a seat in Congress after forcibly moving them off their ancestral land, an exodus known as the Trail of Tears.

Wednesday's congressional hearing is the result of recently renewed efforts from Cherokee Nation principal chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. to have Congress finally act on the provision. In 2019, Hoskin appointed Kimberly Teehee as its first delegate to Congress, in anticipation of the federal government's acknowledgement of the promised seat.

"It's time for this body to honor this promise and seat our delegate in the House of Representatives," Hoskin said at the hearing. "No barrier — constitutional or otherwise — prevents this."

During the hours-long hearing, held by the House Committee on Rules, Hoskin called the "carefully constructed promise" that the Cherokee Nation would be granted a congressional seat a "critical" part of the treaty. Congress members went back and forth over the logistics of appointing the delegate seat, the language used in the treaty and whether a treaty signed centuries ago still had the same legal standing.

"I should tell you that, since we've announced this hearing, I've heard a number of concerns about appointing a Cherokee Nation delegate from other colleagues in the House, as well as other tribes, and other groups," said Rep. James P. McGovern, the committee chair. "But I am very sympathetic with how Chief Hoskin outlined this. I think there's a strong case here."

While the committee meeting ended without a decision, the meeting did bode well for the prospect of an eventual vote in the near future.

"Very good questions raised today, but I think the conclusion is inescapable," Hoskin said toward the end of the hearing. "And I think that that conclusion can be reached in this calendar year."

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