The executive director of government relations for the country's largest Native American tribe discussed potential dollars that could be available after President Joe Biden proposed a $1.9 trillion package for COVID-19 recovery funds.
Kim Teehee, representing the Cherokee Nation, spoke during a Zoom meeting Thursday afternoon. She said Biden had requested $20 billion be allocated for tribes for additional pandemic relief, and throughout the proposal are monies that expressly include tribes. Teehee said the funds related to a variety of areas, such as vaccination supply efforts, disaster relief, unemployment assistance, food nutrition programs, education, transportation and more.
And to advance those funds to tribes and other entities in the country, Teehee is expecting Democratic leaders to use a "reconciliation," a process to quickly push fiscal legislation.
“It is a process that has been used by Republicans and Democrats alike,” said Teehee. “It is a process that is very defined and has restricted use. It can only be used for measures that impact spending, tax and debt. It also expedites legislative process, because it requires a majority vote instead of, say, 60 votes. The president probably wouldn’t have 60 votes in the Senate to pass this proposal, but he probably has 50 votes.”
It’s unlikely everything in Biden’s proposal will make it into the reconciliation package. Teehee said an increase in minimum wage to $15 an hour will likely face challenges. After some tribes did not receive any CARES Act funding, governmental relations officials like Teehee are trying to ensure every federally recognized tribe receives at least $1 million.
Teehee mentioned several Biden initiatives she hopes the Cherokee Nation will ride his coattail on. One area involves voting rights bills for which the president has expressed support.
“There are also some Indian Country-related voting rights bills that we support, too,” said Teehee. “So we’re going to make sure in a national package that our issues are addressed, when it comes to making sure our tribal IDs are accepted at the polling sites, that there is greater opportunity for access to those polling sites, that our addresses – many of us live in rural areas – are accepted as well.”
In 2019, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. announced the tribe’s intention to send Teehee to Congress to serve as a delegate to U.S. House of Representatives. Hoskin said Thursday that the tribe plans to push even harder for her seating in 2021.
“If you want Congress to get better, then our delegate needs to be seated, because she’ll make Congress better,” Hoskin said. “She’s been effective in everything she has done, whether it’s our government relations department, whether it’s working in the White House, whether it’s working on Capitol Hill, whether it’s working in the private sector, advocating for Indian Country, advocating for tribes, she has been effective.”
The tribe is also focused on protecting its rights detailed in the Treaty of New Echota, wherein a provision authorizes the Cherokee Nation to have a delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The last time the tribe visited Washington, D.C., to discuss with members of Congress Teehee’s appointment was March 2020. She said they received no opposition from any of the members, but the tribe did have questions raised that required legal analysis. The pandemic put a pause on the tribe’s effort to put a Cherokee in Congress.