Indianz.Com on YouTube: Ambassador Keith Harper speaks at the State Department in Washington, D.C., June 30, 2014.
After quickly jumping into his job last month, Ambassador
Keith Harper returned to the U.S. on Monday to thank Indian Country for supporting his historic nomination.
Harper, a member of the Cherokee Nation, was confirmed as the U.S. Representative to the United
Nations Human Rights Council last month. He said he would not have succeeded without tribes -- more than 130 sent endorsement letters to the Senate.
"I am so deeply grateful for your support throughout the process," Harper said at a ceremonial swearing-in at the State Department yesterday.
Harper is the first member of a federally recognized tribe to serve in an ambassador-rank post. He's most well known for working on the Cobell trust fund litigation since its inception in June 1996 and he thanked the late Elouise Cobell, a Blackfeet nation woman who was the lead plaintiff in the case.
Harper also thanked the late Billy Frank Jr., the treaty rights advocate who served as the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission for more than 30 years.
Harper and his firm represented Frank's Landing Indian Community, a traditional fishing site,
and worked with Frank on a number of issues.
But Heather Higginbottom, a deputy secretary at the State Department, said Harper's work extends beyond Indian Country. He's worked on human rights issues, including equal treatment for women and girls, throughout his legal career.
"Keith is the exactly the sort of diplomat we need representing the United States at the U.N. Human Rights Council," Higginbottom said yesterday at the ceremony. "His passion, his leadership and his expertise will help us continue to be a global champion of the rights enshrined in the universal declaration of human rights."
Higginbottom noted that Harper did just that at the 26th
regular session of the Human Rights Council, which concluded last week.
The new ambassador advocated for the rights of indigenous women and discussed the "well-documented" mistreatment of Native people in the U.S. during his first official stint in Geneva, Switzerland.
He also encountered controversy when he delivered messages from the U.S. that criticized the human rights records of Cuba and Venezuela. At one point, he was chased down by a foreign government representative who did not like what he said.
"They criticize us, they challenge us, because it matters," Harper said.
"When we call for gender equality and ending child and forced marriages, that shines a light on societies that fail to treat women and girls with dignity and equity," Harper added.
Harper will be returning to Geneva next week to continue the work of the U.S. Mission to the UN.
He will be hosting a youth hoop dance group from Pojoaque Pueblo in New Mexico later this month.
The next session of the Human Rights takes place in September.
Keith Harper is joined by his family at the State Department swearing-in ceremony. Heather Higginbottom, a deputy secretary, is standing on the right. June 30, 2014. Photo © Indianz.Com
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