LaDonna Harris (Comanche)
LaDonna Harris, President of Americans for Indian Opportunity, 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 in Indian country on a farm near the small town of Walters, Oklahoma during the Great Depression by her maternal grandparents. 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 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. Harris also help 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: Kathryn Tijerina, New Mexico Director of External Affairs for the University of Phoenix; Byron is a technician in television production in Los Angeles; and 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.