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The Embassy of Tribal Nations, home to the National Congress of American Indians, is located at 1516 P Street NW in Washington, D.C. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
National Congress of American Indians set to announce new chief executive
Tuesday, April 13, 2021
Indianz.Com

WASHINGTON, D.C — The National Congress of American Indians is expected to announce a new chief executive officer as soon as this week.

Fawn Sharp, the president of the NCAI, recently told a group of Indian women leaders that a candidate was in the process of being hired. She did not name an individual but said to expect news soon from the nation’s largest inter-tribal advocacy organization.

NCAI’s press team did not respond to a request for comment about the timing of the announcement. The organization has been without a top executive for almost five months, following the surprise departure of Kevin Allis last November.

But multiple sources in Indian policy circles in the nation’s capital believe the top candidate for the job is Dante Desiderio, who hails from the Sappony Tribe, located in Virginia and North Carolina. He currently serves as executive director of the NAFOA, one of the leading finance and economic development organizations in Indian Country.

Desiderio is well-respected for his work at NAFOA, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization has kept tribal nations informed about many of the fast-moving legislative, legal and policy developments that have occurred during much of the past year.

“Dante will be solid,” one prominent tribal official told Indianz.Com, speaking on the condition of anonymity because a formal announcement from NCAI hasn’t been made.

Allis, a citizen of the Forest County Potawatomi Community, was hired as chief executive officer of NCAI in June 2019. At the time, his selection was hailed as a “new chapter” for the organization that has defended tribal sovereignty and tribal interests since 1944.

Yet Allis shocked tribal leaders when he announced his pending resignation during NCAI’s annual conference, which took place virtually, in early November 2020. He said he would stay on board during a transition period while a new chief executive officer was selected.

But before the month was up, Allis was gone from NCAI, with no explanation provided to Indian Country. He insisted that his departure was amicable.

“My goal was to make the organization stronger and more solid internally, and that’s where NCAI now finds itself,” Allis told Indianz.Com when asked about leaving earlier than anticipated.

“Part of the thrill and interest was the fixing role, and now that the place is in a rock solid place [it’s] time to pass the torch and move on,” Allis said.

Allis, however, had been questioned by the tribal leaders who serve on NCAI’s executive committees and boards for some of the employment decisions he made. He brought on a non-Native to serve as vice president of government relations last July yet that person resigned after just two months on the job.

Another non-Native was also chosen to serve as vice president of operations for NCAI. That person left the organization after about a year on the job, at around the same time Allis announced his resignation.

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The Embassy of Tribal Nations, home to the National Congress of American Indians, is located at 1516 P Street NW in Washington, D.C. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

A third executive also stepped down after Allis departed. Lycia Maddocks, a citizen of the Quechan Tribe, was serving as vice president of external affairs and had only joined NCAI a year prior.

Yet another NCAI executive is expected to leave NCAI soon, a source in Indian policy circles told Indianz.Com.

The rapid turnover at NCAI, which is headquartered at the Embassy of Tribal Nations in Washington, D.C., is not uncommon. When Jackie Pata served as executive director — a position that was renamed to chief executive officer following her departure — Native women were leaving the organization in droves, Indianz.Com reported at the time.

Pata, a citizen of the Tlingit and Haida Tribes, had served as executive director for a nearly 18 years, a record for any Indian organization. She departed in February 2019 after coming under fire for her handling of a sexual harassment scandal that led to the ouster of the non-Indian attorney who led NCAI’s legal department.

The executive who is expected to be leaving NCAI soon is a woman, according to the source.

Desiderio, whose tribe is recognized by the state of North Carolina, did not respond to a request for comment about his employment plans.

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