embassyoftribalnations
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 ousts first Native attorney over Zoom
‘I did my job and I did it well’ says Navajo citizen Derrick Beetso
Monday, May 24, 2021
Indianz.Com

WASHINGTON, D.C — The National Congress of American Indians has ousted the first Native person who served as its highest-ranking attorney, less than two weeks after a new chief executive officer came on board.

Derrick Beetso, a citizen of the Navajo Nation, was fired as NCAI’s general counsel on Friday. He reported his termination in a post on social media.

“On Friday afternoon I was fired via Zoom, with no notice or consultation, by NCAI’s new CEO, Dante Desiderio,” Beetso wrote in the late-night post.

Beetso was the first Native person to hold the general counsel position at NCAI and had worked at the largest inter-tribal advocacy organization in the U.S. for nearly seven years total. He said he was fired for allegedly “undermining” Dante Desiderio, whose first day on the job was May 11.

“When I asked for clarity on why I was being terminated, he said he had issues with how I reviewed contracts and that I was undermining his leadership at NCAI,” Beetso continued.

According to the social media statement, the contract at issue was one in which Desiderio had a direct interest. The business relationship has not been previously disclosed but questions about it apparently contributed to Beetso’s termination.

“This contract was entered into before his employment at NCAI and while he was still employed at another organization,” Beetso said of Desiderio, who most recently served as executive director of NAFOA, formerly known as the Native American Finance Officers Association.

“He was clearly not an NCAI employee, and he was clearly not the CEO at that point,” Beetso added, raising doubts about Desiderio’s leadership supposedly being undermined at a time when

Beetso said he did in fact “express concerns” about the contract. He wondered “whether it was appropriate for NCAI to ask the Executive Director of another organization to perform duties that required access to confidential and proprietary information.”

He further stated that the “Native professionals at Indian Country Today” were being mistreated as the contract at issue was being carried out. Indian Country Today was previously owned by NCAI until it was transferred to an independent non-profit, IndiJ, in late March.

It is not immediately clear, however, if the contract at issue is between NCAI and NAFOA, the organization, or between NCAI and Desiderio, who is listed as the “principal officer” for NAFOA on its tax filings.

Beetso, who had helped lead NCAI for about six months following the sudden departure of former CEO Kevin Allis, declined to comment further when contacted by Indianz.Com.

“My statement included all I want to say for now, other than ‘Honor, dignity and respect,’” said Beetso.

Desiderio hails from the Sappony Tribe, a state-recognized tribe whose community is based along the border of North Carolina and Virginia. Indianz.Com reported his imminent hiring at NCAI on April 13.

“In early April, via an Indianz article, I learned Desiderio was hired as NCAI’s CEO,” Beetso noted. “I was not part of the hiring process.”

“And nine days into his role as NCAI CEO, Desiderio fired me, at least in part for legitimate concerns I expressed about a contract his company had with NCAI, prior to his employment at NCAI,” Beetso said.

“I did my job and I did it well,” he said. “I was fired for it and NCAI’s Administrative Officers allowed for that to happen.”

Desiderio and NCAI have not yet responded to requests for comment placed during the noon hour, Eastern, on Monday.

Desiderio was officially announced as CEO on April 15, two days after the Indianz.Com story. The organization promised a “press briefing and virtual meet-and-greet” with him in May, following his arrival at the Embassy of Tribal Nations, where NCAI is based in Washington, D.C.

“I look forward to serving once again at an organization I respect, and with a team that puts their whole heart into their work, and am ready to meet the challenges ahead,” Desiderio said at the time. “I thank the NCAI Board for the trust they put in me and for the opportunity to return to the Embassy and lead the NCAI team as we work together for the betterment of all of Indian Country.”

Desiderio is only the second person to hold the title of CEO at NCAI. He succeeded Allis, a citizen of the Forest County Potawatomi Community who unexpectedly announced his departure last November.

Prior to Allis, NCAI had been overseen by an executive director. Jackie Pata, a citizen of the Tlingit and Haida Tribes lasted through three U.S. presidential administrations but stepped down in February 2020 following a sexual harassment and management scandal that saw Beetso’s predecessor, a non-Indian attorney, ousted from the organization.

During the transition between Pata and Allis, and between Allis and Desiderio, Beetso served on a leadership team that managed NCAI. In his statement on Sunday, he said he had won praise for his work and was even promised “financial compensation” for it. He said the additional compensation “never materialized.”

“I remain a lifetime member of NCAI, I believe in its mission and I have great respect for it history and prestige,” wrote Beetso, who primarily worked from Arizona in addition to being in D.C. and traveling to tribal events across the nation. “And I have the utmost respect for the staff at NCAI that provide so much good service to Indian Country.”

Related Stories
National Congress of American Indians set to announce new chief executive (April 13, 2021)
National Congress of American Indians | State of Indian Nations #SOIN2021 (February 26, 2021)
Cronkite News: State of Indian Nations remains ‘strong’ despite numerous challenges (February 26, 2021)
Native America Calling: The State of Indian Nations (February 23, 2021)
National Congress of American Indians hosts winter session (February 22, 2021)
National Congress of American Indians: State of Indian Nations (February 22, 2021)
Tribes await action on priorities as Congress returns to work (November 18, 2020)
National Congress of American Indians seeks candidates for youth commission (November 6, 2020)
National Congress of American Indians calls on U.S. to rejoin global climate change agreement (November 5, 2020)
‘All out war’: Republican lawmaker slams National Congress of American Indians (September 18, 2020)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) letter on ‘Tribal Unity’ (September 18, 2020)
Tribes push for passage of PROGRESS Act in Congress (September 16, 2020)
National Congress of American Indians kicks off Tribal Unity Impact Days (September 16, 2020)

#MeToo at National Congress of American Indians
Judge rejects lawsuit from former attorney at National Congress of American Indians (July 14, 2020)
‘He was punished for sexual harassment’: Allegations at National Congress of American Indians resurface in court (February 27, 2020)
Lawsuit filed against news organizations (September 16, 2019)
John Dossett sues Indianz.Com over National Congress of American Indians #MeToo allegations (September 2, 2019)
National Congress of American Indians loses second-in-command (June 25, 2019)
National Congress of American Indians enters ‘new chapter’ with new executive (June 12, 2019)
Jefferson Keel enters new phase of service in Indian Country after battle with cancer (May 10, 2019)
National Congress of American Indians names new communications director (February 27, 2019)
Tribes remain wary of Trump administration despite apparent concessions on policy disasters (February 21, 2019)
Timeline: National Congress of American Indians in turmoil and transition (February 22, 2019)
National Congress of American Indians attempts to move past turmoil (February 20, 2019)
National Congress of American Indians announces departure of executive director (February 19, 2019)
National Congress of American Indians vows change after declaring workplace ‘safe’ for women (February 15, 2019)
President of National Congress of American Indians issues apology (February 15, 2019)
Rosebud Sioux Tribe issues statement about White House listening session (February 15, 2019)
White House listening session turns messy as one tribe walks out in protest (February 14, 2019)
Twitter Recap: Day two of National Congress of American Indians winter session (February 12, 2019)
Native leaders deliver rebuke of Trump administration at State of Indian Nations (February 11, 2019)
Twitter Recap: The 17th annual State of Indian Nations address (February 11, 2019)
Tribal leaders gather in nation’s capital amid threat of another shutdown (February 11, 2019)
National Congress of American Indians loses more women staffers (December 12, 2018)
National Congress of American Indians opens annual convention amid controversy (October 23, 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)