The changes come as Jackie Pata, NCAI's long-serving executive director, enters another month away from the action in Washington, D.C. She was suspended in mid-October, on the eve of a key milestone -- the organization's 75th anniversary convention in Denver, Colorado. NCAI's executive committee, which consists of tribal leaders from every region of Indian Country, voted in unanimous fashion to remove Pata from her post amid complaints about her management style, concerns about employee dissatisfaction and scrutiny of her handling of a #MeToo scandal that resulted in the ouster of the organization's highest-ranking and longest-serving attorney. Indianz.Com was the first to report on the reassignment of that attorney, John Dossett, and as well as the first to report on his subsequent departure. Following the publication of additional stories, NCAI President Jefferson Keel eventually confirmed that Dossett had been the subject of "two specific allegations" of sexual harassment Against that backdrop, tribal leaders were looking to take strong action to address the controversy. According to sources close to the leadership, all of NCAI's area vice presidents voted in favor of Pata's suspension. But the officers who serve on NCAI's executive board -- the president, vice president, secretary and treasurer -- were on the fence. Only one of them voted to suspend Pata, according to the sources, while another voted against it. Two other officers sat out of the vote, which took place on the Saturday prior to the annual convention.
“NCAI has been in the news lately and its not for the best reasons,” President Jefferson Keel says as he directly confronts the #MeToo controversy that has eroded confidence in the the National Congress of American Indians. #NCAI75 pic.twitter.com/dVydBucMZE— indianz.com (@indianz) October 22, 2018
The move to suspend Pata otherwise came from tribes themselves, Keel confirmed during his opening address at NCAI's convention. He said an "ad hoc committee" of leaders, which came together after Indianz.Com's first report back in August, was unanimous in its recommendation to place the executive director on leave. Keel also said NCAI adopted some -- but not all -- of the suggestions made by tribal leaders who have been critical of Pata's management. The ad hoc committee is reviewing how allegations of staff misconduct have been handled in the past, according to the president. As part of that work, the committee has spoken to dozens of employees, former employees and others connected to NCAI. "NCAI doesn't condone harassment of any kind in the workplace, nor have we, nor will we, tolerate it anymore," Keel said in Denver on October 22. “We will take action when it occurs in the future just like we did in the situation at hand."
“NCAI does not condone harassment of any kind in the workplace,” President Jefferson Keel says in addressing the #MeToo controversy that has eroded confidence in the National Congress of American Indians. #NCAI75 pic.twitter.com/HS1oZ7MS2j— indianz.com (@indianz) October 22, 2018
NCAI's internal problems first came to light in early August. Nicole Hallingstad left her position as director of operations at the organization and urged tribal leaders to take a closer look at employee turmoil. "Like so many other employees, I have chosen to leave a dysfunctional workplace created by an executive director with very poor human resource management skills," Hallingstad, who like Pata is a citizen of the Tlingit-Haida Tribes, wrote in a letter to NCAI's executive committee on August 31. Hallingstad recently won election to Sealaska's board of directors. An examination of NCAI’s annual reports shows that women are the ones who are most affected by the turmoil. Between 2017 and 2018, for example, 58 percent of the employees who left the organization were women. Since January alone, NCAI has lost other women, like Hallingstad, who were serving in high-ranking positions. The director of communications was among them -- the job is now being advertised as vacant. "The NCAI Communications Director is a key member of the NCAI External Affairs team and is the go-to communications professional for the organization, NCAI membership, the media, and general public," the job notice reads. According to NCAI, the position will remain open "until filled." Prior to being suspended, Pata managed to fill NCAI's deputy director post, which had been vacant for most of the year. Ahniwake Rose, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, confirmed to Indianz.Com prior to the convention that she accepted the job. She is not listed on NCAI's staff page at this time however.
After Pata was suspended, three staffers were put in charge. The leadership team consists of Virginia Davis, a senior policy advisor at the organization, Derrick Beetso, the recently-named general counsel, and Yvette Roubideaux, a former federal government official who heads up NCAI’s Policy Research Center. At least two members of the group have connections to the #MeToo controversy. Davis, who has mostly been a part-time staffer, had initially been tasked — by Pata — earlier this year with investigating the allegations against John Dossett, according to multiple former employees. Only after facing pushback within the organization did Pata bring in an outside attorney whose work focuses on sexual harassment within the workplace to review complaints against Dossett. Following the review, his title was changed to senior counsel at NCAI. Beetso was then unceremoniously named NCAI’s general counsel in late July. His promotion marked the first time a tribal citizen has held the job — Dossett is non-Indian and had served in the post since 1995 — yet there still has been no public announcement or explanation of the development. Correction: Jackie Pata is a former vice chair of the Sealaska board of directors. She continues to serve on the board but was replaced as vice chair in August 2016.
Congress got busy this week for Indian Country. JOM passed, and now Senate passed Farm Bill with #selfgov opportunities for FDPIR and TFPA! Plus establishment of tribal advisory committee @USDA. Tribal unity makes things happen.— Ahniwake Rose (@AhniwakeR) December 12, 2018
National Congress of American Indians suspends highest-ranking staffer (October 22, 2018)
National Congress of American Indians defends handling of #MeToo scandal (October 11, 2018)
Former employees take aim at National Congress of American Indians in #MeToo scandal (October 9, 2018)
Tribes demand accountability from National Congress of American Indians (October 5, 2018)
National Congress of American Indians ousts senior attorney after #MeToo outcry (October 3, 2018)
Harold Frazier: Where are the Indians in the National Congress of American Indians? (September 28, 2018)
National Congress of American Indians under #MeToo fire (September 25, 2018)
Prominent Indian Country attorney reassigned after #MeToo allegations (August 31, 2018)