Published March 12, 2016
WASHINGTON — National Indian Gaming Association announced Saturday, March 12, 2016, the recipient of the 2016 Chairman’s Leadership Award. This year’s honoree is LaDonna Harris, Founder and President of Americans for Indian Opportunity.
The annual award will be presented during the Chairman’s Luncheon during the Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention on Monday, March 14th at the Phoenix Convention Center. The Chairman’s Leadership Award recognizes an extraordinary leader who works with and through Indian people for the long-term benefit of Indian Country; who exhibits innovative and proactive leadership; demonstrates exemplary relationships building both within and outside Indian Country; and who has made a fundamental and long-term positive impact on the lives of Native American people, Tribal Governments and Indian Country.
“As advocate on behalf of Tribal America, LaDonna Harris is the person who notices and challenges the status quo and is willing to tackle tough issues that improve the lives of Native people in Indian Country,” said Chairman Ernie Stevens.
“Her commitment, her energy and her ability to effectuate change are remarkable and the work she has done can be felt throughout all of Indian Country. She sets an example for the rest of us. Strong women leaders like LaDonna are the backbone of our Tribal Communities.”
Harris is referred to as remarkable stateswoman and national leader who has enriched the lives of thousands. She has devoted her life to building coalitions that create change and has been a consistent and ardent advocate on behalf of Tribal America. In addition, she continues her activism in the areas of civil rights, environmental protection, the women’s movement and world peace.
Harris began her public service as the wife of U.S. Senator Fred Harris. She was the first Senator’s wife to testify before a Congressional committee. She was also instrumental in the return of the Taos Blue Lake to the people of Taos Pueblo and to the Menominee Tribe in regaining their federal recognition. In the 1960’s she founded Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity to find ways to reverse the stifling socio-economic conditions that impact Indian communities. From the 1970’s to the present, she has presided over Americans for Indian Opportunity, which catalyzes and facilitates culturally appropriate initiatives that enrich the lives of Indigenous peoples. In addition, Harris helped to found some of today’s leading national Indian organizations, including the National Indian Housing Council, Council of Energy Resource Tribes, National Tribal Environmental Council and National Indian Business Association.
In 1994, Vice President Gore recognized Harris as a leader in the area of telecommunications in his remarks at the White House Tribal Summit and then Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown appointed her to the Advisory Council on the National Information Infrastructure. In addition, she was appointed to the following Presidential Commissions: National Council on Indian Opportunity (Johnson); White House Fellows Commission (Nixon); U.S. Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year (Ford); Commission on Mental Health (Carter); and she represented the United States on the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) (Carter).
As a national leader, Harris has influenced the agendas of the civil rights, feminist, environmental and world peace movements. She was a founding member of Common Cause and the National Urban Coalition, and is an ardent spokesperson against poverty and social injustice. As an advocate for women’s rights, she was a founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus. In 1980, as the Vice Presidential nominee on the Citizens Party ticket with Barry Commoner, Harris firmly added environmental issues to that and future presidential campaigns. Her influence now reaches to the international community to promote peace as well. She was an original member of Global Tomorrow Coalition, the U.S. Representative to the OAS Inter-American Indigenous Institute.
During her career, she has served on many national boards: Girl Scouts USA; Independent Sector; Council on Foundations; National Organization of Women; National Urban League; Save the Children Federation; the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing; and the Overseas Development Corporation. Boards which she currently serves on include the Advancement of Maori Opportunity, National Senior Citizens Law Center and Think New Mexico. She also serves on the following advisory boards: the National Museum of the American Indian; American Civil Liberties Union; National Institute for Women of Color; and the Delphi International Group.
Harris has raised three children: daughter Kathryn Tijerina, New Mexico Director of External Affairs for the University of Phoenix; son Byron is a technician in television production in Los Angeles; and daughter Laura works with her mother as the Executive Director at Americans for Indian Opportunity. Harris is especially proud of her twenty-one year-old grandson Sam Fred Goodhope, who calls her by the Comanche word for grandmother, Kaqu.