Sacred Site Advocates Ask Senate to Heed Keith Harper Concerns

Rob Capriccioso
2/17/14

Wayland Gray, a Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizen and sacred site advocate, finds himself in a David versus Goliath-type situation.

Gray says he wants the U.S. Senate and the White House to hear his views against Keith Harper’s nomination to become a human rights ambassador with the United Nations, but he knows he is up against a major political machine.

“I know some of the powerful Native lobbyists are supporting Keith Harper,” Gray says. “But they shouldn’t have any more influence with Congress than grassroots Native people who have problems with his nomination.”

Harper, a Cherokee Nation citizen, is a lawyer with Kilpatrick Stockton who helped settle the Cobell lawsuit with the Obama administration, and he is politically well-connected to the administration, having worked as a transition team member, served on a presidential commission, and he was a major fundraiser for the Obama campaigns for president. Many Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist and lawyer associates of Harper, as well as tribal leaders who have had positive interactions with him and his firm, have weighed in to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with support for his nomination.

Several indigenous human rights advocates, disenrolled tribal citizens, Cherokee Freedmen, Cobell settlement critics, and tribal leaders who oppose the nomination and who are not as well-connected as Harper find themselves in a precarious situation: How to get Congress to hear their voices when up against such an influential lobby?

RELATED: Indigenous Rights Advocates Question Keith Harper Nomination

Gray thinks the story of Hickory Ground’s sacred site desecration – and Harper and Kilpatrick Stockton’s representation in the matter – should speak volumes to senators who are considering the nomination. “Keith Harper’s firm has been defending the excavation of approximately 57 of our tribal ancestors who were dug up to build a casino,” he says, noting a long-standing source of conflict and sadness for Muscogee Creek citizens who have for years battled the Poarch Band of Creek Indians building and expansion of a casino on and near sacred burial grounds known as Hickory Ground in Alabama.

“I don’t see how Keith Harper can be an ambassador of human rights at the U.N. if he can’t even protect our sacred places and the burial sites of our ones who have passed,” Gray says. “The number one most important thing to Natives and to all humans is our burial places of our loved ones.”

RELATED: The Battle For Hickory Ground

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