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Retirement hasn’t slowed AIO leader

Beth Wojahn

LaDonna Harris enjoys the Maori Indian AIO event

LaDonna Harris (left) enjoys the Maori Indian AIO event outside her home on Santa Ana.

Americans for Indian Opportunity founder LaDonna Harris says one of the reasons she passed the "leadership torch" to daughter Laura was so she could slow down some.

Does this mean retirement for the woman whose Ambassadors Program won the Mead 2001 Award? Hardly. Using past accomplishments as an indicator for the future only means one thing for LaDonna: AIO is not only the fruit of what she does, it's a part of who she is. And after spending an afternoon with her, I just don't see retirement happening.

LaDonna grew up Comanche Indian, (her great-great grandfather was captured as a youngster in Mexico and later became a Comanche war chief. "They had a different idea of adoption back then," she said laughingly. “It was a time in Oklahoma when diversity among cultures wasn't considered a good thing.” Perhaps that's why her life's work is sustained by the belief that there is room for all cultures and traditions.

Hard to believe now, but LaDonna describes herself back in those days as "the epitome of a stoic Indian girl." "I didn't speak four words at a time," she said. In the early days, when her husband, Fred Harris, was in the Oklahoma State Legislature, he would talk and LaDonna would interpret people, and she says she was right about them more than 80 percent of the time. "He was my voice and I was his eyes," she said.

LaDonna was involved in civil rights in her hometown and had already founded Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity when she and her husband, now a U.S. senator, went to Washington, D.C. "Imagine the culture shock," she said, remembering the move. The shock must not have lasted too long, because LaDonna was off and running, becoming the first senator's wife to testify before a congressional committee.

LaDonna activism snowballed from there. She was involved in women's rights and President Johnson’s War on Poverty program, and she also founded some of today's leading national Indian organizations, including the National Tribal Environmental Council, the National Indian Housing Council, and, of course, AIO.

More than thirty years of hard work and dedication has its rewards. "I've spent a most of this year being honored,” Ladonna said modestly. Last September she was honored by the National Museum of the American Indian at its inaugural powwow on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for all she has done for her native people and America. She was lauded twice in one week recently: once for exerting influence that led to legislation returning the Taos Blue Lake to its people, and again by the Institute for the Preservation of Indian Language for her efforts to preserve native languages.

Even though LaDonna says she's trying to "slow down some," one of her main focuses now is international relationships with indigenous people. AIO recently hosted Maori tribal members from New Zealand in September (they all traveled to Washington, D.C., for the powwow) at a forum that was helpful to both indigenous cultures, and next summer Ladonna is scheduled as the keynote speaker at an international summit on globalization on the island of Crete.

"Globalization is happening," she said, "and we're asking ourselves, What is going to happen to us? How do we maintain our cultural and political identity in this new world order of globalization?" To accomplish that, Ladonna says they're focusing on leadership through indigenous peoples.

Ladonna is still chairman of the board of directors for AIO, and is on her way to Washington, D.C., for a committee meeting to plan the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian.

In March a new class of “ambassadors” will gather for the first time at LaDonna’s home. I know from personal experience that they will feel welcome and safe to be who they are, because LaDonna Harris's warm, vibrant, open-armed personality encourages it.

She assured me that she takes time doing things that don't necessarily involve the betterment of society as we know it. She says she loves to garden and is very proud of the patch of grass she's nurtured at her home. Summer is her favorite season, and she loves to swim. She enjoys watching biographies on the tube and judging from the walls at AIO headquarters and her home, she loves photographs.

The photographs LaDonna has of herself and with her children, Katherine, Byron, and Laura—as well as her only grandson, Fred—are all action photos: at the powwow in Washington, D.C., with Lady Bird Johnson, at a women's-rights march, at Chaco Canyon with the Maoris.

Will she slow down long enough for a posed studio portrait? My guess is no.


Appel promoted to account supervisor

Scott AppelAdcom Communications, a full-service advertising and public relations firm, has promoted former Placitan Scott Appel to account supervisor. Appel will continue to supervise several of the firm’s top accounts. He will also oversee the account service department. His other responsibilities include agency management and new business development. Prior to his promotion, Appel served as senior account executive. 

“Since Scott joined Adcom in 1998, he has been instrumental to the success and growth of the agency,” said Mike Pressendo, president of Adcom. “He has a great personality and a strong work ethic. Our clients enjoy working with him, and so does our staff.”

Appel is a member of the American Marketing Association and serves on the advisory board of the South Mountain Salvation Army Youth Center. He also plays trombone in the Scottsdale Community College Band and Trombone Choir. Appel received his bachelor's degree in marketing from New Mexico State University and has degrees in both accounting and small business management. He is currently working on his MBA at the University of Phoenix.

About Adcom Communications: Founded fourteen years ago, Adcom Communications provides marketing, advertising, public relations and e-marketing services to clients around the world. Adcom has offices in Phoenix and Cleveland.




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