Indigenous Rights Advocates Question Keith Harper Nomination
“Anyone who is placed in an international position with the purpose of defending and assuring indigenous rights cannot ignore the horrific tribal, civil, and human rights violations occurring against thousands of American Indian people at the hands of their own tribal governments,” Cory says, adding that she expects by now that Harper should have released a statement on whether he believes tribal disenrollment is appropriate under any circumstances—yet she and others searching for an opinion from him have not seen one to date.
Monette believes it is “quite fair” for people like Cory to be critical of Harper’s lack of response on the disenrollment issue. It is especially important, Monette says, because Harper and his firm have lobbied in the recent past for at least one tribe that has conducted controversial disenrollments, although Monette has offered no proof that Harper or his firm played a role in any disenrollment proceedings.
Beyond disenrollment issues, Monette says Harper’s resume appears “rather thin” for him to have been selected to serve as a human rights ambassador. “Keith seems to have been chosen because he was a strong bundler for the president, not because he was the best Indian person for this position,” he says. “And powerful Natives are supporting him because he has done favors for them.”
Monette’s critique aligns with recent widespread criticism of the Obama administration and its nominations of several people who seem to have little familiarity with topics involving the positions for which they have been nominated. President Barack Obama’s nominee to Argentina Noah Bryson Mamet, for instance, recently admitted that he had never been to the country. George Tsunis, a hotel businessman, knew little about Norway when asked questions about the country during his nomination hearing in January, despite being chosen by the president to become an ambassador there.
Like Harper, many of the nominees who have garnered the most scrutiny from both Congress and the press have been top bundlers for Obama’s presidential campaigns. “Nominating allies and top fundraisers to plum diplomatic posts isn’t a phenomenon Obama invented, but the lack of preparation on the part of his nominees is becoming the source of unflattering headlines,” ABC News reported in a February 7 article that highlighted some of “the most cringe-worthy moments from Obama’s nominees.”
Monette says that Harper can point to his time commitment involving Cobell as a reason for not having addressed more indigenous human rights topics, “but if he is going to be held up as the first Native American to do this job, one would assume he would be a leader in this field.”
The Cobell settlement also helped Monette to personally understand much about Harper’s character when faced by his critics. Having disagreed with each other on various parameters of the settlement, Monette claims the disagreement became physical in 2010 when Harper pushed him in a hallway at the D.C. District Court. “I brought one of the old class-action gurus to the Cobell courtroom one day as I was getting ready to testify about my problems with the settlement,” he alleges. “We were walking together down the hallway at the court, and Keith Harper gets in front of us and stops. And Keith shoved me—and I mean hard. He did it on purpose to try to provoke. It really, really threw me because it was just before I was scheduled to testify.”
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