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Story written by Steve Robinson for the Claremore Museum of History in conjunction with Women’s History Month at the MoH 2024 with excerpts from Fall 2011 Surrey Magazine.

Kimberly Teehee was born on October 13, 1968 and is an attorney, politician, and activist on Native American issues. She is a Delegate-designate to the U.S. House of Representatives from the Cherokee Nation. She served as senior policy advisor for Native American affairs in the administration of President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2012. In February 2020, she was named by Time as one of 16 activists fighting for a “More Equal America.” A member of the Cherokee Nation, she and her family are fluent Cherokee language speakers.

Kim was blessed with an amazing childhood filled with precious memories rooted in Cherokee heritage. Her parents are very supportive of her. To know about her life before the White House is to understand her family’s background because that is what influenced her career path. Kim’s parents, Amos and Polly Teehee, grew up in Stilwell on their Cherokee land allotments and speaking Cherokee as a first language. Both attended Sequoyah High School in Tahlequah when it was a boarding school operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

While she grew up in Claremore, Kim was born in Chicago, Illinois, where her parents moved as part of a federal relocation assistance program for American Indians. Kim’s family moved to Claremore when she was in the 4th grade. Both of her parents worked for the Claremore Indian Hospital. As you can tell by these examples, federal policy is interwoven in Kim’s family history but she didn’t appreciate that until she was much older. Kim attended Claremont Elementary School, Will Rogers Junior High and Claremore High School where she graduated from in 1986. She was a pretty quiet kid except around her small circle of friends. She played softball, golf and tennis. Kim’s, brother Gerome, was an excellent athlete in school and growing up she was probably best known for being his little sister.

Cherokee Nation sponsored several youth programs which Kim participated in such as leadership camps for Native American youth and summer internships. She was on Cherokee Nation’s tribal youth council. Kim took part in a number of activities supported by Cherokee Nation. Growing up, she didn’t realize that these activities would also influence her interest in Native American affairs. Her parents didn’t seek these opportunities for her by design but Cherokee Nation was the natural outlet for that.

Teehee is a graduate of Rogers State University, where she received an associate’s degree, and of Northeastern State University, where she was graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science in 1991. She earned her Juris Doctor from the University of Iowa College of Law in 1995. She was awarded a Bureau of National Affairs Award.

Teehee served as the first deputy director of Native American Outreach for the Democratic National Committee and director of Native American outreach for President Bill Clinton’s 1997 inauguration. Starting in 1998, she then served as Senior Advisor to Democratic Congressman Dale Kildee of Michigan, who was a co-chair of the Native American Caucus in the House of Representatives.

In the Obama administration she served on the White House Domestic Policy Council. Beginning July 2009, she assumed the new position of Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs and advised the president about issues pertaining to Indian country.

During her tenure at the White House, she played a major role in securing re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). In 2015, after leaving the White House, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians honored her for her work on VAWA, especially as it related to prosecuting non-natives who abuse native women on tribal lands. In 2014, Teehee joined Cherokee Nation Businesses, where she served as vice president of special projects for the tribe’s holding company.

In August 2019, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. appointed Teehee as the Cherokee Nation’s first-ever delegate to the United States House of Representatives. Her appointment was approved by the Cherokee Council on August 29. The Nation’s right to send a delegate to Congress was provided for in the Treaty of Hopewell of 1785 and the Treaty of New Echota of 1835; however, the right was not exercised until 2019. The U.S. House of Representatives will have to vote to seat Teehee as a delegate similar to those representing the U.S. territories. Kim was reappointed by Chief Hoskin as the Cherokee Nation delegate-nominee in August 2023.

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