2018 – Advocacy,
LaDonna Harris was the founder and president of Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO). As a national leader, she influenced the agendas of 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 an original convener of the National Women’s Political Caucus. She was the 1980 vice-presidential nominee on the Citizens Party ticket with Barry Commoner.
She was raised traditionally by her maternal grandparents in a self-governing Native community on a farm near the small town of Walters, Oklahoma. She only spoke Comanche until she attended public school and English. In 1949, shortly after graduating high school, she married Fred R. Harris. LaDonna supported Fred through college, and was very involved in his campaign for U.S. Senator. In 1964, Fred Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate, and the family, now with three children, relocated from Oklahoma to Washington, DC.
While residing in Washington, DC, LaDonna Harris was able to accomplish many things. She founded the first intertribal organization in Oklahoma, titled the Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity (OIO), and became the first wife of a senator to testify before Congress to argue for continued funding to support Native/tribal organizations. President Lyndon B. Johnson recognized Ms. Harris’s accomplishments and her impact on Native Americans, and appointed her to the National Council on Indian Opportunity. With the support of President Johnson, Harris created the first Native American-education course, entitled “Indian 101”, which required completion by all members of Congress. Harris taught the course herself for thirty years.
She left the National Council on Indian Opportunity in 1970, and founded Americans for Indian Opportunity. From the 1970s to the 1990s, she has presided over AIO, which works to advance the cultural, political and economic rights of Native people. She helped 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, as well as her beloved American Indian Ambassadors program.
She has been appointed to many Presidential Commissions, including being recognized by Vice President Al Gore, in 1994, as a leader in the area of telecommunications in his remarks at the White House Tribal Summit.