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LaDonna Harris Papers and Americans for Indian Opportunity Records

Identifier: MSS-862-BC

Scope and Content

The collection consists of documents from LaDonna Harris' personal life as an activist and from AIO's four decades of operation as a non-profit organization involved in advocacy and development projects related to the needs and rights of Native Americans. As Ms. Harris' personal life has been inextricably intertwined with AIO's pursuits, there is some unavoidable overlap in the organization of the papers. The contents of this collection range from Ms. Harris' early years as an activist and wife of U.S. Senator Fred Harris in the 1960s, to her founding of AIO in 1970, and running AIO through the 1990s, to AIO's continued operation under the direction of her daughter, Laura Harris, in the early 2000s.

The collection documents AIO's principal activities, including organizing conferences, seminars, workshops, and other programs for Native American tribes and governmental agencies. Major initiatives include: artnerships for the Protection of Tribal Environments; Governance project; Family Systems project; Tribal Issues Management System; Toward an Understanding of Rural Economies; IndianNet; and the Ambassadors Program. Additionally, AIO was instrumental in the formation of the Council of Energy Resource Tribes, American Indian Telecommunications Consortium, Tribal Association of Solid Waste and Emergency Response; The collection contains correspondence, proposals, seminar materials, and publications related to these and other AIO projects.

The collection also features material from governments (federal, state, municipal, and tribal) and civil society organizations with which AIO worked. As such, the collection offers a record of the activist groups and governmental agencies that operated in the same milieu as AIO. The collection is a useful repository of material on politics and policies in Indian country and beyond.
  1. Personal and professional correspondence
  2. AIO reports, proposals, and publications (and support material that contributed to their creation)
  3. Minutes and attendant material from AIO board of director meetings
  4. AIO budgets, audits, and fundraising activities.
  5. Documents from contemporaneous civil society organizations and government agencies (federal, state, local and tribal) with whom AIO had relations and of which AIO kept records for reference.
  6. News clippings
  7. Audio and video recordings
  8. Photographs
The collection is divided into seven series:

LaDonna Harris Personal includes biographical information on LaDonna Harris, personal communication, photographs, news clippings, and other material from her personal, professional and political life that did not fall directly under AIO auspices. Noteworthy files in the personal series are Ms. Harris' resumes and biographical summaries, her writings and speeches, and material from Senator Fred Harris' electoral campaigns. This series also includes correspondence from organizations for which Ms. Harris served as a board member. The majority of the photographs housed in the collection are in this series.

AIO consists of material related to AIO's programs and initiatives and its internal organizational governance. This series is subdivided into two subseries: Administrative and Projects & Publications.

Administrative covers AIO's organizational governance. It includes material related to the board of directors, its members and meetings, as well as to the smaller executive committee, which met more frequently. It also includes material related to AIO's personnel, consultants and interns. Financial documents include budgets, audits, ledgers, payroll and fundraising activity. This subseries also includes promotional documents that provide general overviews of AIO and its accomplishments.

Projects & Publications -- the heart of the collection -- documents the substantive programs, proposals and publications that AIO developed over the course of its history. Examples of these projects include Ambassadors, Brownfields, Family System, Governance, IndianNet, Tribal Issue Management System, and Tribal Economic Flows. Reflecting the research and development process involved in AIO's initiatives, the type of materials found here are grant proposals and white papers, budgets and expense reports, outside correspondence and internal memoranda, preparation and planning documents, seminar paraphernalia and transcripts, and drafts of reports and final publications linked to AIO's endeavors.

Organizations & Governments includes communication between AIO and civil society and governmental entities, not directly relating to formal projects that AIO carried out. Generally this consists of brief correspondence on limited issues or responses to specific inquiries. This material reflects the extensive relationships that AIO maintained through the course of its operations. This documentation is useful for researching types of entities that operated in the same contemporaneous milieu as AIO.

This series contains material put out by non-governmental groups and governmental agencies, providing a glimpse into their character, activities and programs. Although much of this documentation does not relate directly to AIO, it was kept by AIO as reference material, and thus, provides a useful cross-section of the types of contemporaneous organizations and governmental entities that AIO interacted with and allied with on behalf of Native Americans. Examples of the material in this series include non-profit newsletters, government publications on topics important to Native Americans, memos from executive agencies, collaborations with universities, and communication with individual tribes. This broad range of material demonstrates that the collection will be useful for researchers whose scopes of inquiry go beyond AIO specifically into other areas of civil society and government that deal with Native American issues and policies.

Organizations is divided into Indian Organizations, Non-Indian Organizations, US Federal Government, States, and International. Significant among the Indian Organizations files are the Council of Energy Resource Tribes, Native American Rights Fund, National Congress of American Indians, Native American Public Broadcasting Consortium and Native American Public Telecommunications. Non-Indian Organizations include the Smithsonian Institution, the Ford Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. US Federal Government files include all executive agencies, the US Congress and the White House. Important files are from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Administration for Native Americans. States includes communication and material from local organizations, individual tribes, state and local government agencies and universities; they are organized by the state in which their offices are located. AIO's master list of its files on state-level organization and tribes appears in this subseries under "master list". Government agencies and tribal organizations from New Mexico are well represented in this subseries since AIO operated out of New Mexico for much of its history. Finally, International contains material from foreign or international organizations, organized by organization, country or region.

Issues contains reference material that AIO kept on issues important to Native Americans that did not necessarily relate to specific AIO projects. Major subjects include economic development, gaming, land, water, health and education. Issues A-Z consists of news clippings, correspondence, and outside reports and publications. Hobbs Strauss Dean & Wilder is a legal firm specializing in Indian law that provided in kind contributions to AIO in the form of legislative analysis. Their files contain reports on legislation and other government action that affected Native Americans.

Individuals contains material related to specific people that either had important ties to AIO or were prominent figures in their own right. This series includes biographical information, resumes, correspondence, writings, and news clippings. AIO's ongoing relationship with individuals such as Native American rights advocate Ada Deer are represented here.

Correspondence consists of both outgoing and incoming letters and faxes. The files maintain AIO's chronological organization of this communication, showing AIO's concurrent projects and relationships in context. Researchers interested in specific AIO initiatives are advised to consult the Projects & Publications subseries of the AIO series. However, those interested in the totality of AIO's work during a certain time period are advised to consult this series, which gives a fascinating glimpse into the multiplicity of activities that AIO juggled and advanced on a day-to-day basis. In cases where AIO sent the same text to many people, only one representative letter was kept in the collection and the redundant copies were excised.

Audio and Video consists of recordings of AIO promotional material and conferences. Key items include the Governance and Ambassadors conferences. This series also contains a three-hour oral history interview with LaDonna Harris, conducted in 2010, by Ashley Sherry and Max Fitzpatrick.


  • 1953-2010
  • Majority of material found within 1970-2000


Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Copy Restrictions

Limited duplication of CSWR material is allowed for research purposes. Audio/video may not be duplicated without written consent of AIO. User is responsible for compliance with all copyright, privacy, and libel laws. Permission is required for publication or distribution.

Biography / History

LaDonna Vita Tabbytite Harris, born February 15, 1931, in Cotton County, Oklahoma, is a Comanche national and social activist who has advocated for the empowerment of Native Americans. In 1970, she founded Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO), and has served as its president for the past four decades.

In the 1950s, Harris helped organize the campaign to desegregate Lawton, Oklahoma. She co-founded Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity. As the wife of U.S. Senator Fred Harris (D-OK), she played a role in the Government's return of Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo in 1970 and in helping the Menominee tribe gain federal recognition after they had been terminated by the U.S. Government. Harris was the first spouse of a U.S. senator to testify before Congress.

Harris has served on presidential commissions and executive agency advisory boards under five different US presidents. She has also served on numerous boards of directors and was instrumental in founding 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 1980, she ran as the vice presidential candidate of the Citizens Party.

As the founder and president of AIO, Harris has been instrumental in devising and implementing its many initiatives. In addition to work done throughout the United States, Harris has participated in conferences and collaborations in Bolivia, New Zealand, the Soviet Union, Palestine, Morocco, and Mexico.

Harris has two daughters and one son: Kathryn Harris Tijerina (born in 1950); Byron Harris (born in 1958); and Laura Harris (born 1961), who currently serves as AIO's Executive Director.

Americans for Indian Opportunity is a non-governmental organization whose mission has centered on advocating for the self-sufficiency of Native Americans, facilitating between government agencies and tribal governments, and training the next generation of Native American leaders. AIO has initiated programs to improve governance, environmental protection, and economic development of Native American tribes. AIO's principal activities have included organizing conferences, seminars, workshops, and other programs for Native American tribes and governmental agencies; and publishing important findings and policy papers on Native American issues.

Unique to AIO has been the incorporation of traditional tribal processes and traditions in their advocacy. AIO has led efforts to involve indigenous peoples in their own cultural solutions through their seminars and projects with governmental and non-governmental organizations.

As a not-for-profit organization, AIO has funded its operations with government grants and donations from foundations and corporations. It has been headquartered in Washington, D.C., Bernalillo, New Mexico, and currently, Albuquerque, New Mexico.


140 boxes (139.2 cu. ft.), plus 1 oversize folder


The collection consists of documents from LaDonna Harris' life as an activist and from AIO's four decades of operation as a non-profit organization involved in advocacy and development projects related to the needs and rights of Native Americans.


7 series:
  1. LaDonna Harris Personal
  2. AIO (Administrative; Projects and Publications)
  3. Organizations & Governments (Indian Organizations; Non-Indian Organizations; U.S. Federal Government; International; States)
  4. Issues: (Issues A-Z; Hobbs Strauss Dean & Wilder)
  5. Individuals
  6. Correspondence
  7. Audio/Video

Related Material

Fred R. Harris Papers. Carl Albert Center. Oklahoma University. Norman, OK

Americans for Indian Opportunity website.

Separated Material

Additional photos are available via New Mexico's Digital Collections

"Everybody Has Medicine," a video derived from Ashley Sherry and Max Fitzpatrick's 2010 interview with LaDonna Harris, including photographs and documents taken from throughout the collection, is available online.

Archival audio/video masters stored in B3.

Processing Information

Audio/video reformatted to CD/DVD in 2010.

Many news clippings have not been photocopied.

Inquire with reference staff for access to unprocessed material, 25 boxes, B3-3B.(Acquired Oct. 2017)
Finding Aid of the LaDonna Harris Papers and Americans for Indian Opportunity Records, 1953-2010 MSS 862 BC
A. Sherry, M. Fitzpatrick
© 2011
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is in English
Funding provided by: National Historical Publications and Records Commission

Repository Details

Part of the UNM Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections Repository

University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections
University Libraries, MSC05 3020
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131