LaDonna Harris, President of Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO), is a politician and national leader. 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. 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. 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.
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. She was a founding member of Common Cause and the National Urban Coalition and is a 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 added environmental issues to the national debate and future presidential campaigns. She was an original member of Global Tomorrow Coalition and the U.S. Representative to the OAS Inter-American Indigenous Institute, and VNESCO. She is an honorary Member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
Harris has raised three children: Kathryn Tijerina is 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' grandson, Sam Fred Goodhope, 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 United States 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. 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.
Harris endorsed Bernie Sanders for President during the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries.
She is an honorary co-chair of the Women's March on Washington, scheduled for January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as President.
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.
After reading interviews of the filming of the 2013 movie The Lone Ranger, and that Johnny Depp's reprisal of the role of 'Tonto' will be as a Comanche, Harris decided to adopt Depp into the Comanche Nation. 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. “Welcoming Johnny into the family in the traditional way was so fitting... 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”, Harris said.
In the original Radio Broadcast, Tonto was identified as being Potawatomi. Depp has identified himself as being Cherokee but is not enrolled in any Cherokee or other tribe.