, New Mexico , United States
|| February 15, 1931
Jul 14, 2007 10:39pm
Irish - Native American -
|Info||LaDonna Harris embodies her Comanche heritage and is one of the most influential, inspired, and determined Native Americans in politics. Since 1970, she has served as the president of Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO), a national multi-tribal organization devoted to developing the economic opportunities and resources of American Indians throughout the United States. |
She was born on a Comanche allotment in Temple, Oklahoma to a Comanche mother and Irish-American father. The couple split up soon after her birth. She was reared by her maternal grandparents, who gave her a traditional Comanche upbringing. Harris was educated in the customs of the tribe and did not learn English until she started school.
In 1949 she graduated high school, and married Fred Harris, who was elected to the Oklahoma State Senate in the early 1960's. On the campaign trail and as wife of a state senator, LaDonna developed influential contacts and political savvy to help improve the lives of Native Americans in her own state. In 1965, she organized a meeting of representatives of sixty tribes in Oklahoma to address the needs of overcoming discrimination and poverty. In 1970, Harris founded Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity, the first intertribal organization in the state.
Gaining political momentum, she was able to work for the rights of Native Americans, children and the mentally ill. She served on a wide range of committees such as the National Rural Housing Conference and the National Association of Mental Health. In 1967, Harris was invited by Lyndon Johnson to chair the National Women's Advisory Council of the War on Poverty. She was also asked to join the National Council of Indian Opportunity, but once the Nixon administration was in place, her work seemed blocked by the bureaucracy of Washington. She resigned and in 1970 founded Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO).
While president of AIO, Harris devotes time to a wide variety of interests including being a representative of the Inter-American Indigenous Institute and traveling around the world to study native populations on other continents. She was appointed to the U. S. Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year by President Gerald Ford. During the Carter years, Harris advised the Office for Economic Opportunity, and worked with the Council for Energy Resources Tribes, monitoring and advising tribes regarding the development of mineral and other natural resources on their lands.
The Harris's relocated to New Mexico in 1976 after former Senator Fred Harris made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic candidacy for President. LaDonna reestablished AIO in her new home before running her own national campaign for Vice-President with the Citizen's Party in 1980.
In recent years, Harris has expanded the AIO to meet current needs of Native American groups such as the "American Indian Ambassadors" program, which provides one-year fellowships for Native American students. The participants are instructed in tribal values and modes of government and sent to foreign countries where they can observe other indigenous governmental systems first hand. Harris believes� "In today's changing world, it is time for Native Americans to define ourselves�and what kind of new leaders we need for the 21st Century."