Tribal Leader Says He Witnessed Aggressive Outbursts by Keith Harper; Others Affirm Support for Human Rights Nominee
John Berrey, chairman of the Quapaw Tribe, is adding himself to a list of Native Americans who are expressing concern about Keith Harper’s nomination to serve as a United Nations ambassador for human rights—and the tribal leader says he witnessed an incident in which a Native American lawyer alleges that Harper angrily confronted her in 2005 and was verbally abusive.
Majel Russell, a Montana-based Indian affairs lawyer with Elk River Law Office, recently detailed two incidents she says were initiated by Harper, one in 2005 and one in 2010. Berrey is one of three different witnesses who have told Indian Country Today Media Network similar versions of the earlier incident and two witnesses say they saw and heard part of the second encounter, during which Russell claims, “He [Harper] confronted me in a hallway and threatened to tell a tribe that I had not represented them well in a previous trust settlement.”
Berrey, a member of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) Executive Committee, says he was forced to separate Harper from Russell during the 2005 incident. “Keith sure postured like he was going to hit her, cussing the whole time,” says Berrey, who saw the confrontation.
“He [Harper] flipped out,” a separate witness to the incident said previously. “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.”
“He was yelling at her and cussing at her—it wasn’t like two people were standing arguing,” another witness said previously. “People thought he was going to hit her. He was very, very angry and got right up in her face.”
Jim Gray, former chief of the Osage Nation who served as the vice-chair and chairman of ITMA from 2004 through 2006, offers an alternative account, saying he was at both meetings where the alleged incidents occurred.
“I’ve never seen Keith lose his cool, ever,” Gray says, adding that he believes that many people who have come out against Harper’s nomination have lingering concerns about the Cobell litigation and settlement, during which Harper was a lawyer representing the Indian plaintiffs in the case. “There are a lot of people who have legitimate differences of opinions on how that case was managed, but what are you going to do? I don’t think it should carry over to hurt Keith’s career,” he says.
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