Tribal Leader Says He Witnessed Aggressive Outbursts by Keith Harper; Others Affirm Support for Human Rights Nominee
While several prominent Native lobbyists and tribal leaders, including some current leaders at NCAI, are supporting Harper’s nomination, citing his Cherokee citizenship and his work on the Cobell case, Berrey says the allegations from Russell and lawyer Richard Monette, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin and former chairman of Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians who says Harper shoved him before a Cobell hearing in 2010, should be reasons for serious contemplation.
“Keith has no respect for human rights,” says Berrey, the current co-chair of an indigenous rights committee at NCAI. “He’s over-the-top, aggressive and mean and angry. This is not a person we need representing us at the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples coming up in September.”
There is currently an internal debate going on inside NCAI, according to four of its executive committee members, with some believing the organization should address the allegations and ask the White House to nominate a less controversial Native American to this position.
Jackie Johnson-Pata, executive director of the organization, has stood firmly behind Harper, recently pointing to a list of tribal supporters for him when asked to weigh in on the allegations, as well as to a support letter sent by Jefferson Keel, former president of NCAI, to the Foreign Relations Committee last year. Brian Cladoosby, current president of NCAI, said in a statement issued February 24 that NCAI has supported Harper “because of the importance of indigenous rights at the United Nations and Office of American States forums,” and he noted that several civil rights groups are also supporting Harper.
Melinda Warner, a spokeswoman for NCAI, says Johnson-Pata and Cladoosby have no response to the intimidation allegations made by Russell and Monette. In May 2008 NCAI leaders backed Russell to become Assistant Secretary—Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior after the retirement of Carl Artman from the position. Former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne rejected this support and appointed George Skibine to the position instead. Sources at the time cited Kempthorne’s concern about Russell’s strong “tribalist” viewpoints as a reason he selected Skibine over her, to the chagrin of NCAI leaders at the time.
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