We are living in historic times for Indian Country. As we are still celebrating the confirmation of Diane Humetewa, the first Native American woman who will serve as a Federal Judge, there is another opportunity for a historic ‘first’ at our fingertips. The United States Senate is scheduled to vote on Keith Harper’s Nomination to be the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
A member of the Cherokee Nation, Mr. Harper would be the first member of a federally recognized tribe to serve as an Ambassador for the United States. Like, Judge Humetewa, Harper is highly qualified for this position and they will be the first of many talented Native Americans to serve their country in these high profile roles in the future.
Keith Harper has been a longtime advocate for the civil and human rights of Native Americans and Indigenous people here and around the world. He has represented the National Congress of American Indians at the United Nations and Organization of American States in negotiations on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As a skilled litigator, tribal court judge and experienced advocate for tribal governments Mr. Harper’s unique skills and experience make him the ideal nominee for this important position.
His prompt confirmation is essential to ensuring the United States is represented at the upcoming sessions of the U.N. Human Rights Council. Also, his presence at the U.N. General Assembly’s World Conference on Indigenous Peoples will send a strong message to the world about the United States’ commitment to the rights of American Indians and Alaska Natives and all Indigenous peoples around the globe.
Indian Country has waited a long time – far too long – for a Native woman to be confirmed to the Federal Bench and for a tribal citizen to be representing the United States abroad as an Ambassador. While our children and grandchildren will always face great challenges in their lives, they will soon be facing them with role models like Judge Humetewa and Ambassador Harper, and the many more that will follow.
As the legendary Billy Frank Jr. wrote, not long before his passing, “I cannot think of a better representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council than Keith…I can't tell you how proud that makes me and how important a message it sends to our families and children all across Indian Country…I know he will serve his country well and make all of Indian Country proud.” There are still countless challenges facing Indian Country, but right now the United States Senate has an opportunity to send a strong message with these trailblazing public servants.
We thank and congratulate the President Obama for these historic nominations and we call on the United States Senate to overwhelming support Mr. Harper’s confirmation when it comes to the Senate floor for a vote. He deserves to be confirmed and qualified Native Americans need to always be considered for such important positions from this point forward.
Brian Cladoosby, Chairman, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community;
Jefferson Keel, Lieutenant Governor, Chickasaw Nation;
Joe Garcia, Head Councilman, Ohkay Owingeh;
Tex Hall, Chairman, Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation;
Susan Masten, Vice Chairperson, Yurok Tribe; and
W. Ron Allen, Chairman/CEO, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.
The co-authors have all served as the President of the National Congress of American Indians. The National Congress of American Indians, founded in 1944, is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization serving the broad interests of tribal governments and communities.