Sacred Site Advocates Ask Senate to Heed Keith Harper Concerns

Rob Capriccioso
2/17/14

Robin LeBeau, a council member with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, says there are scores of Native Americans fighting for human rights in Indian country who would be less controversial and better U.N. ambassadors than Harper. “I hope that Congress understands that this lawyer is not the best advocate for Indian country or human rights,” she says. “But there are not many politicians in Congress who stand with and for their people nowadays. Money talks.”

Mary Lee Johns, one of the four Native Americans who appealed the Cobell settlement and who was later a target of a harassment-inducing letter sent by the Cobell legal team in 2010, suggests that Natives who want to voice their opinions on this nomination should contact their senators, as the nomination will likely be considered before the full Senate very soon.

RELATED: A Public Letter From the Cobell Lawyers Prompts Ethics and Harassment Concerns

Johns already sent a letter last year to the Foreign Relations committee explaining her concerns about Harper, but his nomination still passed narrowly along party lines in early February, with all Democrats on the committee voting in favor of his confirmation. She has since sent a new letter to more senators, including Democrats Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Patty Murray of Washington, and Mark Begich of Alaska who she hopes will not view this as a partisan matter.

“The fact that he is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Tribe does not necessarily give him unusual powers of insight, empathy and commitment to the problems of oppressed people,” Johns wrote, addressing senators including Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) who have pointed to Harper’s tribal citizenship as a top reason for supporting him.

It remains to be seen if the Senate will heed such arguments, but Gray says that if senators really listen and look at the scope of Harper’s character and commitments, they will come to the right conclusion.

“Right now it’s really important that Native Americans step up and contact their senators,” Gray says. “We need someone who is going to help us protect sacred places at the United Nations.”

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