Published on July 2, 2014 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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LaDonna Harris, President of Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO), is a remarkable statesman and national leader who has enriched the lives of thousands. She has devoted her life to building coalitions that create change. She 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 was raised by her maternal grandparents in Indian country on a farm near the small town of Walters, Oklahoma during the Great Depression. 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 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 1960s, she founded Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity to find ways to reverse the stifling socio-economic conditions that impact Indian communities. From the 1970s to the present, she has presided over AIO, which advances, from an Indigenous worldview, the cultural, political and economic rights of Indigenous peoples in the U.S. and around the world. Harris also 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.
Harris has been appointed to many Presidential Commissions, including being recognized by Vice President Gore, in 1994, as a leader in the area of telecommunications in his remarks at the White House Tribal Summit.
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 the national debate 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 and the U.S. Representative to the OAS Inter-American Indigenous Institute, and VNESCO.
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 to name a few. She currently serves on the Advancement of Maori Opportunity, and Think New Mexico and serves on the advisory boards of the National Museum of the American Indian; American Civil Liberties Union; and the Delphi International Group.
Harris has raised three children: Kathryn Tijerina, Executive Director of the Railyard Park Trust in Santa Fe; Byron is a technician in television production in Los Angeles; and Laura works with her mother as the Executive Director at AIO. Harris is especially proud of her grandson, Sam Fred Goodhope who calls her by the Comanche word for grandmother, Kaqu.
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 for 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.
Adoption of American Actor Johnny Depp into the Comanche Tribe.
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.