We are writing this letter to convey our support of the nomination of Keith Harper as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council. We think the Senate should swiftly confirm him. We have all worked with Keith over many years as he has steadfastly advocated on behalf of tribes throughout this nation. He has been in the forefront of advocacy on behalf of Native peoples across the United States and for indigenous peoples internationally. Repeatedly, Keith has stood strong in the face of difficult odds to stand for what is right. We have come to know Keith well and have confidence in his professionalism, his high ethical standards and his keen capabilities and skills. For these reasons, we think President Obama’s choice is an excellent one.
We are aware that more than 100 Indian nations and more than 25 tribal, human rights and civil rights organizations from across the spectrum have endorsed and are excited about Keith’s nomination. What we have to add is a distinct voice—that of Native women who are tribal leaders, community leaders, educators and advocates. We know that Keith will bring both an understanding of issues that impact Native women and the capability to effectively seek redress for these issues.
Native American women in the United States are more likely to be victims of violent crime that any other racial-gender category. This same dynamic occurs for many indigenous women throughout the world. The lack of safety and security undermines virtually every other aspect of these women’s lives. Moreover, too often, indigenous women do not have the same opportunities to live free, productive lives and participate fully in the political, social and economic opportunities of the wider society. In short, Native women here and everywhere face grave challenges and Keith’s engagement of the Human Rights Council as Ambassador is a critical factor in addressing these challenges.
He has the right experience and the right perspective. He has advocated in support of changes to address violence against Native women and expanding opportunities for them. He also represented the National Congress of American Indians in negotiations regarding the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the U.N.
For the first time, when Keith is confirmed, we will have a United States Ambassador who has a complete understanding of these challenges and the skills and wherewithal to effectively address them. Moreover, his sensitivity to these issues will not just impact matters related to the human rights of indigenous women but all women. So for Native women like us, who care deeply about securing human rights generally and seeing that
progress should be made on the human rights of indigenous women particularly, Keith’s nomination offers a unique opportunity.
Moreover, we are in a good position to evaluate Keith’s attitudes and demeanor towards Native women as we have worked with and observed him. He is always professional, respectful and gracious. Claims otherwise can only come from those who don’t know him.
Moving swiftly to confirm Keith’s nomination is a matter of great urgency. Not only is there the important work at the Human Rights Council, but also this year the United Nations will hold its first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. Preparatory meetings are already in full swing. Upon his confirmation, Keith will be able to provide the State Department with important expertise and insight and set the foundation to having better outcomes from the World Conference.
It is with the utmost respect that we endorse Keith for this critical position. We hope that the Senate will confirm him very soon so he can begin his work on behalf of the nation.
Melanie Benjamin, Chief Executive, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Delia Carlyle, Ak-Chin Indian Community Tribal Councilmember
JoAnn Chase, Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold Reservation, former Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians
Lucille A. Echohawk, Pawnee, Executive Director, Denver Indian Family Resource Center
Laura Harris, Comanche, Executive Director, Americans for Indian Opportunity
Holly Cook Macarro, Red Lake Ojibwe, Ietan Consulting Alfreda Mitre, Former Chairwoman, Las Vegas Paiute
Alfreda Mitre, Former Chairwoman, Las Vegas Paiute
Deborah Parker, Vice Chairwoman, Tulalip Tribes
Lori Pourier, Oglala Lakota, 2013 laureate, Women’s World Summit Foundation Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life
Clara Pratte, Navajo, Director of Navajo Nation Washington Office
Clara Pratt, Director of the Navajo Nation Washington Office
Cara Cowan Watts, Cherokee Nation Tribal Council
Karen Welmas, Former Secretary-Treasurer, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
*Titles used are for identification purposes only. The individual signatories submit this op-ed in their individual capacity.