Lycia Ortega Maddocks, a citizen of the Quechan Tribe, is the new director of communications for the National Congress of American Indians. Photo: Asian American Journalists Association

National Congress of American Indians names new communications director

By Acee Agoyo

The National Congress of American Indians has a new director of communications for the first time since the Obama era.

Lycia Ortega Maddocks, a citizen of the Quechan Tribe, was recently hired for a job that's been vacant for about five years. She "comes to NCAI with years of experience in the tribal, public, and private sector," the organization told Indianz.Com on Wednesday.

Ortega Maddocks began introducing herself as the new director of communications during NCAI's recent winter session in Washington, D.C. Her first official day at the Embassy of Tribal Nations is Wednesday, the nation's largest inter-tribal advocacy organization said.

Ortega Maddocks grew up on the Fort Yuma Reservation, where she co-founded Kwatsan Media, Inc., a nonprofit whose mission is to promote tribal culture and traditions through digital means. She has served as president of KMI's board, according to her LinkedIn profile.

"Lycia works through KMI to engage and energize Kwatsan youth and the community, about actively preserving Kwatsan culture," her biography reads.

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Her professional experience includes more than five years in communications at Citi Retail Services, the credit card firm. She also was selected for the Catalyst: Elevating Media Founders of Color by the Asian American Journalists Association in 2018.

"Lycia’s passion for knowledge around her indigenous culture and community led to her co-founding the nonprofit organization, Kwatsan Media, Inc.," her profile states.

Ortega Maddocks is NCAI's first full-time communications director following the departure of Melinda Warner, who left the position after the winter session in February 2014. In these last five years, the organization has relied on other permanent staff, temporary contractors and outside consultants to manage its outreach with the public and relations with the media.

But the department was left short-handed by the end of 2018, when the last two women who were working in that area departed. Only one full-time employee -- a recent arrival who also helps out with Indian Country Today, which NCAI inherited after a donation from the Oneida Nation -- had been assigned to communications until the recent hiring of Ortega-Maddocks.

The staff turnovers are a sign of the turmoil that has affected NCAI over the last few years. Women have been leaving the organization in droves, with a number of them complaining about they way they were treated after coming forward with allegations of sexual, racial and other types of misconduct.

The upheaval came to a head after Indianz.Com reported on the reassignment of NCAI's senior-most attorney after he had been investigated for sexual harassment. John Dossett, who had worked there since 1995, was eventually ousted following an outcry among member tribes of the organization and advocates for Native women.

NCAI then suspended Jackie Pata, its longest-serving executive director, in order to investigate how past allegations of staff misconduct were handled. She finally returned to work after the conclusion of this year's winter session and subsequently announced her resignation.

“After having time for thought and reflection, I have decided to resign from my role as NCAI executive director,” Pata, a citizen of the Tlingit and Haida Tribes, said last Tuesday after emerging from an administrative leave that lasted almost four months.

“Serving NCAI and tribal nations has been one of the greatest honors of my life," she said of a position she held for 18 years -- longer than anyone else in the organization's history. "I am proud of that service and know that I leave NCAI with a strong foundation for continued growth under new leadership.”

During the winter session, NCAI President Jefferson Keel, whose term in office ends later this year, confirmed that a review into the organization's workplace culture had been completed. Though he declined to provide details of the outcome, he said it showed that women are welcome.

"Based on the findings of that review, I can assure you that [NCAI] is indeed a safe place for women to work," said Keel, who also serves as lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation.

NCAI's communications shop has long been assigned to the organization's director of external affairs, Jamie Gomez, who is Pata's daughter. Gomez started working at NCAI before Pata came on board in 2001.

According to former employees, external affairs is the largest department at NCAI. Besides communications, Gomez oversees conferences and relations with member tribes, whose fees and contributions help keep the organization alive.

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