It is an honor to be here. I want to start by expressing my excitement about this invitation and to thank the organizers for it. I began working on the Cherokee delegate issue in my second year of law school. It was my first major paper, prompted by my professor at the time, Rob Williams, who simply suggested, “Look into the delegate right.” With no clear direction, I discovered that, fortunately for Indian law, the U.S. government kept very detailed records of its mistreatment of different groups, including treaty negotiations.

Personal Anecdote

This morning, I got up, ate a donut, and didn’t tell my wife. The U.S. government, however, recorded its misdeeds meticulously, and it did so regarding the Treaty of New Echota.

Acknowledging Expertise in the Room

I should note that this presentation is somewhat unusual for me as a professor. Typically, I lecture to audiences that know less than I do. This audience, however, knows a lot more about this topic, and many of you have a personal connection to this history. I will be discussing some contentious parts of the treaty negotiation, and I might come down too strongly on the Ross side of the Ross vs. Ridge debate. My intention is not to offend anyone but to describe the treaty negotiation from my perspective.

First Talk Experience

The first talk I ever gave, before I became a professor, was actually in Tahlequah. Then-Principal Chief Chad Smith invited me to speak about the Cherokee delegate right. That was back in 2002. A group of prominent historians of Cherokee history gathered to discuss the Cherokee delegate right, which seemed to sit idle for a decade due to other political issues within the Cherokee Nation. I am glad to see that the tribe is now able to return to this tremendous opportunity.

Main Point

Speakers often hide their main point, but I want to be clear: It is great that the Cherokee delegate right is being pursued. We don’t know the outcome, but there is value in the pursuit, even if it faces significant challenges.

Personal Background

A brief introduction about myself: I am not Indian. I grew up partly on the Navajo Nation, where my father was a teacher. My mother worked for the Navajo EPA. However, I did not live on the reservation permanently, leaving for boarding school in high school. Most of my work centers on Navajo issues, and while I want to leave time for questions, I may not know detailed Cherokee history.

Cherokee Delegate Right

The delegate right, as stated in the Treaty of New Echota, entitles the Cherokee Nation to a delegate in the House of Representatives. This promise, outlined in Article 7, has domestic implications and challenges. I want to discuss the treaty promise, its historical context, and what it means today.

Treaty of New Echota

The Treaty of New Echota was signed by a minority of the tribe, including Ridge and Schermerhorn, but not by John Ross. Despite the leadership dispute within the Cherokee Nation, the U.S. government accepted it as a valid treaty, which resulted in significant land cessions, including the state of Georgia.

Cherokee Resistance

The Cherokee Phoenix highlighted the resistance to the treaty, emphasizing the need for the U.S. to honor existing treaties before considering new ones. U.S. agent Mason noted that the majority of Cherokees did not support the treaty.

Leadership and Democracy

The U.S. government exploited internal disputes within the Cherokee Nation, choosing to negotiate with those amenable to removal rather than the established government or the Cherokee people as a whole. This approach undermined the idea of treating the Cherokees as a nation.

Validity of the Treaty

Regardless of the internal disputes, the U.S. government accepted the Treaty of New Echota, making it binding. Just as my son must accept his choice of dessert, the U.S. must honor its treaty promises, including the delegate right.

Legal Principles

The legal principle of interpreting treaties in favor of Indian nations supports the Cherokee claim to a delegate. Historical records show that the U.S. promised a delegate, and it should not backtrack on that promise.

Comparison with Other Treaties

Comparing the Cherokee delegate right with similar promises to other tribes, like the Delawares and the Choctaws, highlights the unique strength of the Cherokee claim. The Confederate Congress seated a Cherokee delegate during the Civil War, demonstrating historical recognition of this right.

Contemporary Significance

Today, non-voting delegates have significant authority in Congress, particularly when the majority party allows them to vote in committees. The Cherokee delegate would bring representational value and financial savings for maintaining a D.C. office.


There are challenges, including the perception of a “super vote” for Cherokees and concerns about the selection process for the delegate. However, these should not overshadow the historical promise and the need to honor it.


Thank you for your attention. I believe in the importance of pursuing the Cherokee delegate right, even if it faces obstacles. I am happy to take questions now.

Q&A Session

Question: When it says in the treaty that the Cherokees get a delegate to the House whenever Congress shall make provision, do you think that means both the Senate and the House must agree, or just the House on its own?

Answer: I don’t think we know for sure. Some argue that only the House needs to agree, but traditionally, treaty rights involve the Senate as well. There might be value in the Cherokee Nation sending the chosen delegate to Congress to create a crisis and force a decision.

Question: Do you see other Indian nations being opposed to it?

Answer: Yes, some tribes might view it as giving the Cherokee Nation special power and authority. While some may support the Cherokee push without seeing it as affecting them, there could be opposition based on self-interest.

Thank you very much for your attention and for tolerating what was once a law school student’s passion project.

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Professor Ezra Rosser

It is an honor to be here. I want to start by expressing my excitement about this invitation and to thank the organizers for it. I began working on the Cherokee delegate issue in my second year of law school. It was my first major paper, prompted by my professor

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