Indigenous Rights Advocates Question Keith Harper Nomination
Harper has not responded to requests for comment on this allegation, and Page, the spokesman for Kilpatrick Stockton, declined to comment. Paul Kamenar, a longtime class-action lawyer based in D.C. who was with Monette at the time of the incident, says he was not in sight range to see exactly what happened. “I’m not saying it didn’t happen,” he says. “But Richard is a very honest and forthright person, so I don’t have any reason to doubt him.”
Beyond the Monette incident, Kamenar says the Senate should investigate Harper and the Cobell legal team’s request for much higher lawyers’ fees than Congress approved for in the settlement. “I thought the $100 million that Congress allowed for lawyers’ fees was excessive, he says. "Then the lawyers requested $223 million from the court. It was outrageous.” A battle among Cobell lawyers over fees still continues at the D.C. District Court, with Kilpatrick Stockton lawyers saying that the Native American Rights Fund does not deserve the $8.1 million it has requested for work it performed during the case.
Marilyn Vann, president of the Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes organization, is another indigenous advocate who has questions about Harper. In all the years that citizens with Cherokee and African-American ancestry – widely known as Cherokee Freedmen – have been asking the Cherokee Nation to enroll them, she has never heard Harper, a citizen of the tribe, take a position.
“I am not aware of Keith Harper writing any newspaper columns, or giving any interviews regarding the Cherokee Freedmen disenrollment issues, or on any tribal enrollment issues, including disenrollment, blood quantum, or moratoriums against registration of additional tribal members,” Vann says.
“I believe that the Cherokee Freedmen issue is very important as it deals with treaty rights of a tribal minority who were oppressed due to their ethnicity,” Vann says, noting that the U.N. previously took a position against disenrollment of South African citizens due to their ethnicity, and she hopes that Harper would support such a policy in the U.S. and other countries.
“I certainly believe that a prospective appointee to a human rights U.N. position should be questioned by U.S. officials who must approve an appointment as to [his] positions on legal and human rights issues of Indian country,” Vann adds.
Harper’s silence to date on tribal disenrollment and Cherokee Freedmen issues appears reminiscent of the silence Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) blasted him for during his first confirmation hearing in September 2013, which centered on a letter drafted and distributed by the Cobell legal counsel during the appeals period of the Cobell settlement.
The letter included the names and addresses of four Native Americans – Kimberly Craven, Carol Good Bear, Mary Lee Johns, and Charles Colombe – all of whom appealed the settlement; it encouraged Cobell class members to directly contact the appellants, and it indicated they were holding up payments by exercising their legal right to an appeal. Several Indian country legal experts said the letter, which was distributed by e-mail to a large listserv and posted on the Cobell lawyers’ website from January 2010 through September 2013, amounted to harassment – and harassment did indeed result from the letter – but at the time Harper did not and would not say anything against it when queried by the press.
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