Keith Harper

Indian Lawyers Allege Threats by Human Rights Nominee Keith Harper

Rob Capriccioso

Keith Harper, a presidential nominee to become a human rights ambassador to the United Nations, is being called out by Native American lawyers for alleged intimidation tactics. These lawyers, who have had disagreements with him over the Cobell litigation, say they are speaking out to shed light on his character before the full Senate considers whether to confirm him.

“I’ve had two confrontations with Keith Harper, and during the first confrontation somebody actually had to come and get in between us to stop him from haranguing on me,” says Majel Russell, a Montana-based Indian affairs lawyer with Elk River Law Office. The confrontation, she says, took place in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2005 at a meeting of the Intertribal Trust Monitoring Association (ITMA), a client of Russell’s at that time.

Russell gave a presentation at the meeting regarding accounting issues involved with the then-ongoing Cobell lawsuit. “When I finished my presentation and went outside, Keith followed me,” Russell says. “And he was horrible. He called me a liar, he told me I didn’t know anything about trust lands, and he was very attacking, right up in my face.”

A witness who saw part of the incident was “shocked” by Harper’s behavior. “He flipped out,” says the witness, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of this situation. “He was physically threatening Majel. It was scary. His body language was in her face; he was yelling in her face, calling her a bitch.”

Another witness who asked to remain anonymous says, “He was yelling at her and cussing at her—it wasn’t like two people were standing arguing. People thought he was going to hit her. He was very, very angry and got right up in her face.”

“I was stunned,” Russell says. “I was absolutely shocked that he would follow me and just start railing on me. I was pretty spooked, but I’m an old reservation girl, so I told him that I know what I’m talking about, that I have trust land [and] have been monitoring this situation for years.”

Russell says that Harper told her during this confrontation that the Cobell legal team would seek retribution against people who offered opinions different than the team’s legal arguments involving the Cobell case. “He told me to remember that I shouldn’t be a class buster—‘We will deal with class busters,’ he told me,” she says.

After a different presentation by Russell at another meeting of ITMA in 2010 held in Las Vegas, Harper again challenged her with a threat, she says. “He confronted me in a hallway and threatened to tell a tribe that I had not represented them well in a previous trust settlement,” she says.

Russell, a citizen of the Crow Tribe, says Harper’s words after this second confrontation rattled her, even though she felt she had properly fulfilled her professional duties to both the tribe and to ITMA. “I realized he wanted retribution,” she says. A person who witnessed the end of the discussion and who talked to Russell immediately after it confirms her story.


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Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
I hope none of this is true, because if it is, this will bring a very bad name on the Western Cherokee Nation & leave a bad taste in the mouths of others for some time to come. There is more than enough issues in politics in this tribal nation at times through the decades than to have this come around as well. I would urge all to be looked into with these allegations on both sides: Those alleging & those denying. It is interesting that we are just now hearing about these claims after the some time has passed & now this man is being nominated for a promotion of such an esteemed position. Time will tell what has been & what proves to be true in this matter. I would like to hear more from both parties here in this matter. The Creator shines His favor on the righteous & turns His back on the deceitful & evil of spirit.

candyo's picture
Submitted by candyo on
I have talked to Keith Harper several times and he is always on the fence about issues. I called his office once when I needed a referral for a personal issue concerning my birth mother and he referred me to Holland and Associates which I went to and they were not helpful. They took all my documentation and when the trial day came they dropped my case and said I had a small window of time to get another attorney to help me win my case. He was detrimental to the reason I lost my case at my birth fathers probate hearing. My father was an only child and my mother never divorced him and gave me up for adoption without his knowledge and he died alone on the Wind River Reservation from lung disease and I was one of his two blood relations since he was full-blood Kiowa. I still cry for him every night. She was at the probate hearing and denied giving birth to me even though I had the documentation to prove it from having my adoption records opened by a District Court Judge in Ok when I was enrolled in my Tribe. The probate hearing was in front of a Judge Reeh and there was no court recorder. The people at the hearing were very rude to me, did not want me there, and it was the only time I ever saw my real mother and my real brother. I felt sorry for her.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
Imagine that? An abrasive, confrontational, White, lawyer asshole being selected for a human rights position in the United Nations? Nothing will come of this, he's no doubt a shoe-in for the position. In the meantime, quiet, hardworking, respectful people get looked over because no one knows who they are.