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Tribes reiterate support for Keith Harper's historic nomination

Tribal leaders who serve on the executive committee of the National Congress of American Indians reiterated their support for Keith Harper, a member of the Cherokee Nation, to serve as the U.S. Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

On the eve of NCAI's winter session in Washington, D.C., the committee on Monday voted 8-4 against a resolution that would have withdrawn the organization's support for Harper. Tribal leaders then voted 8-4 to reaffirm their backing for the prominent attorney to serve in the ambassador-rank post.

In supporting the nomination, NCAI's resolution stated: “Harper, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, is exceptionally well-qualified for this position. He is an attorney who has dedicated his career to a deep knowledge of the injustices facing Native people in U.S. history. Mr. Harper will be an invaluable resource to the Human Rights Council. He has proven himself to be a forceful and fearless advocate for human rights. We hope that Mr. Harper’s confirmation will proceed without delay.”

At the committee's meeting, Jeff Grubbe, the chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in California, noted that more than 100 tribes have written letters backing the historic nomination. Prominent leaders like Billy Frank Jr., a treaty rights expert, and Native women leaders like Terri Henry, a council member for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians who fought for tribal provisions in the Violence Against Women Act, say Harper will be a strong asset for indigenous rights on the international level.

But a small number of critics who have been adversaries of Harper in court have gone to Indian Country Today with unsubstantiated complaints. One of those is John Berrey, the chairman of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma who serves as an alternate member to NCAI's executive committee and whose efforts against Harper were defeated yesterday.

Berrey and his tribe were on the losing end of a motion in the Cobell trust fund lawsuit before it was settled for $3.4 billion. And after the case was settled, the tribe filed an objection that delayed distribution of payments to individual Indians.

Later, the Quapaws were excluded from a series of settlements that the Obama administration reached with more than 50 tribes. Berrey has acknowledged that his tribe faces an uphill battle in court.

Other critics of Harper include attorneys whom he disagreed with throughout the course of the Cobell litigation. One is Majel Rusell, who was a political appointee at the Bureau of Indian Affairs during the Bush administration -- which refused to settle the case -- and whose work as in-house counsel for the Crow Tribe was marred by the indictments and convictions of two successive chairpersons.

Another critic is Richard Monette, a former chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians who was vocal in his opposition to the Cobell settlement. He opted out of a portion of the settlement.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has advanced Harper's nomination to the Senate. If he is confirmed, he will be the first member of a federally-recognized tribe to serve in an ambassador-rank post.

In addition to tribal support, several human rights and civil rights organizations have endorsed Harper.

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