Published on January 27, 2013 by Amy
LaDonna Vita Tabbytite Harris (born 1931) is a Comanche social activist from Oklahoma. She is the founder and president of Americans for Indian Opportunity.
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Harris was born on February 15, 1931 in Temple, Oklahoma, on her family’s allotment land. Her parents were William Crawford, of European-American descent, and Lilly Tabbytite, who was Comanche. Her parents separated shortly after her birth, so she was raised by her maternal grandparents, John and Wick-kie Tabbytite. Her father migrated to California as part of the great “Okie” migration, and she only met him a few times in her life. She grew up on her grandparents’ farm, near Walters, Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Comanche was her first language. When a young man, her grandfather had taken part in a last-ditch effort of Comanche warriors to resist the encroachment of the US on their ancestral lands, and as a child she often heard his stories of that tragic time.
She married her high school sweetheart, who was the future Oklahoma Senator Fred R. Harris,. The Harrises had three children together. Their first child, Kathryn Harris (now Tijerina) was born in 1950, their son Byron Harris was born in 1958, and their third and last child, Laura Harris, was born in 1961. Like their mother, the Harris kids have grown up to careers of stature. Kathryn is the Executive Director of the Railyard Stewards a non-profit in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Byron is a technician in television production in Los Angeles; and Laura works with their mother as the Executive Director at Americans for Indian Opportunity. Although Fred and LaDonna ultimately were divorced, they have maintained a friendship.
Harris helped the Taos Pueblo regain control of Blue Lake, and she helped the Menominee tribe gain federal recognition after their tribe had been terminated by the US federal government.
In the 1960s Harris, as the wife of a US Senator, lived in Washington, D.C. and was in constant social and political contact with the top echelons of the Democratic Party, up to and including President Lyndon B. Johnson and the First Lady. At the same time, her daughter Kathryn – at the time a university student – was deeply involved in the Anti war movement opposing the Vietnam War, which was conducted by the same President Johnson. As Harris notes in her autobiography, Kathryn used to bring home other student activists to stay the night, and used the parental home as an unofficial headquarters where activists prepared for the next day’s demonstrations and confrontations with police – with the tacit consent of her parents.
With the end of her husband’s Congressional career, LaDonna Harris moved away from mainstream politics within the Democratic Party. In 1980 she was the Vice Presidential nominee of the short-lived Citizens Party as the running mate of Barry Commoner; however, she was replaced on the ballot in Ohio by Wretha Hanson.
In the past, Harris served on the boards of the Girl Scouts of the USA, Independent Sector, Council on Foundations, National Organization of Women, National Urban League, Save the Children, National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing, and Overseas Development Corporation. Currently, she served on the boards of Advancement of Maori Opportunity, Institute for 21st Century Agoras, National Senior Citizens Law Center, and Think New Mexico. She serves on the advisory boards of the National Museum of the American Indian, American Civil Liberties Union, Delphi International Group, and National Institute for Women of Color.
In 2000, Harris published her autobiography, LaDonna Harris : A Comanche Life ISBN 0-8032-2396-X. A documentary about Harris’ life is being filmed “LaDonna Harris: Indian 101″, by director/producer Julianna Brannum.
After reading interviews of the filming of the 2012 movie Lone Ranger, and that Johnny Depp‘s reprisal of the role of ‘Tonto’ will be as a Comanche, Ms. Harris thought it would be fun to adopt Depp into the Comanche Tribe. She discussed the idea with her adult children, and they agreed. A traditional ceremony took place on May 16, 2012 at Harris’s home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In attendance were Comanche Nation Interim Tribal Chairman Johnny Wauqua, AIO’s staff and close family members. As is tradition, Depp gave gifts to the attendees as a sign of gratitude at the end of the Ceremony. “Welcoming Johnny into the family in the traditional way was so fitting,” Harris said. “He’s a very thoughtful human being, and throughout his life and career, he has exhibited traits that are aligned with the values and worldview that Indigenous peoples share.”.
In the original Radio Broadcast, Tonto was identified as being from the Potawatomi Tribe. Depp has identified himself as being Cherokee.