The nation’s largest and oldest Native American lobby is facing a major shakeup in the wake of a #MeToo scandal, with Fox News confirming that its embattled leader – who announced her resignation in February amid criticism of her handling of that case – is set to leave the organization in early May.
Jacqueline Pata, the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians for 18 years, initially said she would stay on until the organization has hired a successor. The organization that advocates in Washington for treaty-recognized tribal governments across the United States said it hopes to have a CEO in place before the national mid-year conference on June 24-27 in Reno, Nevada.
But in a statement to Fox News, the organization put a tighter timeframe on her departure saying Pata “will continue supporting the organization’s efforts and preparing for the transition to a new CEO until the end of her tenure in early May.”
She’ll land another job. Pata’s parachute is becoming president and CEO of the Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority based in Juneau, Alaska, where she’ll be in charge of handling potentially millions in federal housing grants. The group called her a “recognized and well-respected leader across Alaska and throughout Indian Country” in an April 12 statement.
Pata, a member of the Tlingit and Haida Tribes in Alaska, is a former deputy assistant secretary for Housing and Urban Development during the Clinton administration -- and has been a leading voice in calls for the Washington Redskins to change its name.
But her looming NCAI exit comes after many member tribes cast no-confidence votes in Pata’s leadership last year – and follows the departure of other NCAI officials including the chief financial officer, the director of operations and deputy director. Numerous women departed the organization, according to Indianz.com, a Native American news site that has extensively covered the organization’s turmoil.
The biggest controversy stemmed from allegations against John Dossett, the former general counsel for the organization. He strongly denied accusations of sexual harassment of a female NCAI employee during a 2016 NCAI conference in Spokane, Washington. But NCAI dismissed Dossett last October -- and temporarily suspended Pata over questions about her handling of the claims.
Pata reportedly was informed about the allegations against Dossett within two weeks after the incident allegedly happened but didn’t take action, according to the High Country News, a magazine that covers the American West. After the allegations became public, Pata reportedly said the accuser had a substance abuse problem, the High Country News reported.
Noting that 33 employees left the organization over a three-year period, Director of Operations Nicole Hallingstad wrote in her August 2018 resignation letter that Pata was an “autocratic executive.”
“Committed staff does not lightly leave an organization they love and a mission they are passionate about fulfilling,” Hallingstad wrote. “But when they see colleagues marginalized, disciplined, punished, and even terminated for trying to address issues of poor management – or bad actors not held to account for disrespectful behavior – and the oppressive culture of silence and lack of authentic process means they cannot speak with their voices, then they will speak with their feet.”
Reached by Fox News, Hallingstad declined an interview for this report.
Pata’s suspension amid the controversy came after about 40 tribes cast a “no confidence” vote or called for her ouster.
Pata was back in the job by early 2019 – then initially announced her resignation in February.
“After having time for thought and reflection, I have decided to resign from my role as NCAI executive director. Serving NCAI and tribal nations has been one of the greatest honors of my life,” Pata said at the time. “I am proud of that service and know that I leave NCAI with a strong foundation for continued growth under new leadership.”
NCAI President Jefferson Keel praised Pata's tenure after her February announcement. “During Jackie’s tenure, NCAI grew substantially as an organization, forged partnerships within Indian Country and among outside allies, and achieved significant successes in our advocacy with Congress, the executive branch, and in the federal courts,” Keel said. “NCAI is appreciative of the leadership Jackie has shown in her stewardship of the organization, and we wish her well in her future endeavors."
Fast-forward to today, and the organization has set her departure for May.
“The NCAI executive committee is in the process of recruiting NCAI’s first chief executive officer, which will replace the former position of executive director, a testament to the growth of the organization over our 75-year history,” the NCAI said in a statement. “The committee anticipates that the recruitment process will be completed in time for the new CEO to be announced at or prior to the upcoming mid-year convention.”
The NCAI declined to provide a statement from Pata, but a spokesperson said she helped in crafting the organization's statement to Fox News.
The NCAI told Fox News it is committed to addressing the concerns of members. “In a previous NCAI conference session, on February 12, 2019, President Jefferson Keel reported to our membership that the organization took immediate action in response to harassment allegations made by former NCAI employees,” the statement to Fox News said, adding that Keel announced the completion of an independent review and a separate review of the group’s employment policies.
“In addition, The Washington Media Group conducted an internal culture review that found NCAI is considered a safe place to work,” the statement said.
Pata has been visible in recent years opposing the mascot for the Washington Redskins.
She lambasted a 2016 Washington Post poll that found 90 percent of Native Americans said they were not bothered by the Redskins name. Pata responded that “anyone can create a poll on any issue. The survey doesn't recognize the psychological impacts these racist names and imagery have on American Indian and Alaska Natives.” Pata also co-wrote op-eds for Time and for The Independent criticizing the team’s name as a racist slur.