Indigenous Rights Advocates Question Keith Harper Nomination

Rob Capriccioso

“Specifically, we would like to discuss the growing problem of bad governance practices by tribal officials which, to date, have victimized thousands of individuals,” the disenrolled citizens wrote in one such letter in early 2009, inviting Harper, then an Obama transition team member, to meet at a time they knew he would be attending a nearby tribal conference. “The bad governance practices are often characterized by violations of law which strip or deny individuals and targeted groups of the basic rights and privileges enumerated and guaranteed by tribal, state, and/or federal statutes. In most instances, the victims of these bad governance practices are denied recourse against the tribal official perpetrators due to the fact that the officials invoke tribal sovereignty to escape prosecution.”

Cory, who was disenrolled from her tribe in 2006 along with 600 other tribal citizens, says that Harper seemed like he should have been the right person to contact, as he served on the president’s transition team, later worked in the Obama administration, has been a major campaign finance bundler for the president, and by most accounts continues to hold a place in the White House inner circle.

But Harper’s response was less than satisfying, Cory says, as he responded via e-mail in early 2009 that he would soon no longer be a member of the transition team, so he said the disenrollment concerns should be directed elsewhere in the new administration. She also says he chose not to meet disenrolled citizens at a candlelight vigil held during a tribal leadership conference hosted by the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians on January 24, 2009, yet he attended a tribal leaders’ meeting there at the same time where he was billed as a member of the Obama transition team, although he had told the disenrolled citizens that his transition service would end on January 20.

Pechanga has been frequently criticized for its disenrollments in recent years as its gaming enterprises have flourished, and its leadership has maintained that the tribe’s sovereignty provides a solid foundation for it decisions. Still, disenrollment remains a highly controversial issue in Indian country at-large because many Native citizens feel the action is a federally-sanctioned way to strip Indians of their identities.

“The conference at Pechanga was not the only time that Mr. Harper has declined comment or assistance in fighting the spread of this horrific illness of tribal disenrollment that is consuming Indian country in California and beyond,” Cory says. “After I received disenrollment papers from Picayune, I e-mailed Mr. Harper with details of the situation and asked for help, or at least commentary, three times between 2006 and 2008 at his Kilpatrick Stockton firm. Never did I receive a response.”

Cory knows that Harper was busy with the Cobell lawsuit at the time, but she also believes that if he was interested in one day being a world leader on indigenous human rights, he had the obligation to address the concerns of disenrolled tribal citizens at some point during his long legal career.

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hickoryground's picture
Submitted by hickoryground on
Keith Harper and Kilpatrick Stockton are still profiting from the desecration of the Muscogee Creek burials at Hickory Ground. How did that human rights violation get overlooked in this story?

leeanntallbear's picture
Submitted by leeanntallbear on
When I think of the word "advocate" I don't think about Keith Harper. Names that come to mind among the still living, are Clyde Bellecourt, Suzanne Harjo, Sonny Skyhawk, Winona LaDuke, Eddie Benton Banai - people who actually "changed the nature of the debate" as one of my old friends would say. I am sure all of you have other names that come quickly to mind: people who worked for change in their communities and have a record of not perpetuating or exploiting the status quo.

curtj's picture
Submitted by curtj on
Same old Same old. The non Indigenous will groom whoever they want to get ready for a important position, in order to bribe them. You saw in in the lower 48 in the last 3 or so centuries when the illegal alien immigrants wanted resources and lands for free or real cheap, like cheap jewelry. Look to the Indigenous Peoples Forum of the United Nations, that guy in charge was selected by the colonial governments who continue to rob other countries of their resources and lands with the end result of terrorist attacks against them or their chief supporter, America. It is sick and sad that Indigenous people are so easily bribed like the Washington politicians. They work against their own peoples interests for a few pieces of silver, like the white mans judas and jesus. You saw it when the US government used to recruit Apache trackers to help herd Apaches onto reservations and to exile them to other states in order to rip them from their lands. What kind of respect do you give these Quislings who are bribed to value their momentary riches in order to remove the Indigenous people from their resources and lands, resulting in the obscene drug and alcohol addictions with its violence and resulting suicides.

100IndigenousAmerican's picture
Submitted by 100IndigenousAm... on
To advocate Keith Harper as as a human rights ambassador to the United Nations is asinine and twisted thinking that lacks critical thought. Being slightly brown and having some DNA blood content is not qualifications for real defense of the HUMAN RIGHTS of Indigenous Americans throughout the Americas. Especially someone coming out of the ruins of the Cobell settlement where the rightful receiverships received a paltry amount of what was due to them and the Lawyers drove away with truckloads of cash. Lobbyist, lawyers and politicians dealing with "real" Indians from superiority vantage point are of the same material. They will never look at the "keepers of the Mother Earth" as equals. Keith Harper is a bad choice for the indigenous people, and he is a good choice only for the "business model" and not the "creating restructuring politics for the salvation of original Americans" using the patterns of our traditions using global thinking. I speak my mind as Vietnam Vet and as a proud 100% Dine' from Dine' (navaho) bekayah.