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Tribes praise confirmation of Keith Harper to ambassador post

Keith Harper, Cherokee Nation citizen and nominee for U.S. Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The Senate voted 52-42 on Tuesday to confirm Cherokee Nation citizen Keith Harper to serve as the U.S. Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Harper, an attorney who worked on the Cobell trust fund lawsuit since its inception in June 1996, is now the first member of a federally recognized tribe in an ambassador-rank post. Tribes hailed his confirmation as historic.

"Ambassador Harper is an attorney who has dedicated his career to the injustices facing Native peoples. Issues surrounding Indigenous peoples have emerged prominently on the agenda of the United Nations, and Ambassador Harper will be a valuable resource to the Human Rights Council," the National Congress of American Indians said in a statement. "We look forward to working with him to ensure that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is fully implemented, and as tribal nations prepare for the upcoming high-level plenary meeting known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples taking place this September."

Tex Hall, the chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation of North Dakota, said Native Americans will finally have a voice at the United Nations. He called Harper's confirmation "unprecedented."

"For countless generations our warriors and leaders have fought for the human rights and traditions of our own people. That is just as true today, even though our struggle takes place on a worldwide stage, and even though we have been relegated to the sidelines of the UN. For as long as I can remember, we have never been able to count on the United States to actively promote or defend of our rights on an international level," Hall said yesterday. "That all began to change when President Obama reversed the United States’ opposition to UNDRIP."

“And now, for the first time in history, the President's nomination and Senate confirmation, of Keith Harper as Ambassador means that we will have someone representing the United States who can fight for our tribal treaty rights and our human rights at the international level," Hall added. "This is an unprecedented opportunity for Indian Country and the United States to work together on an global scale to advance our human rights through UNDRIP and other international human rights instruments."

President Ben Shelly of the Navajo Nation was equally optimistic. He commented on the historic nature of the confirmation.

“Keith’s confirmation is of great accomplishment for all of Indian Country,” Shelly said in a press release. “He will be the first citizen of a federally recognized tribe to serve as a U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, was one of the primary advocates for Harper. He pushed his colleagues to move forward with the nomination in a speech last month and the effort paid off.

“Keith Harper has had an exemplary career as a lawyer and a judge. I’m pleased that my colleagues have voted to appoint another historic first for Indian Country," Tester said. "As a longtime advocate for the civil rights of Native Americans, Keith will be a great Ambassador for our country.”

Just last month, the Senate confirmed Diane Humetewa, a member of the Hopi Tribe, to serve as a federal judge in Arizona. She is the first Native American woman in the judiciary.

Get the Story:
Harper confirmed as U.N. Human Rights Council ambassador (The Cherokee Phoenix 6/3)
Keith Harper, Cherokee Nation Citizen, Confirmed as Ambassador (Indian Country Today 6/3)
Senate approves another controversial Obama nominee over harsh GOP criticism (The Blaze 6/3)
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