John Harte says the purpose of Mapetsi Policy Group (Mapetsi means “red bird” in his native San Felipe Pueblo, and was his mother’s maiden name) is “to provide a direct link for tribes to federal policy makers in D.C., knowing that, more than any other factor, federal actions affect Indians.”
That was why Harte came to Washington. “My grandfather worked in tribal politics his entire life. I always wondered why he came to D.C. and why the federal government affected our lives so much,” he says.
Mapetsi is a lobbying group of attorneys, founded by longtime Indian Country advocate Debbie Ho, with expertise in Indian law and the relationship between tribes and the federal government.
Harte comes from the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, where he was policy director for the chairman, North Dakota Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan. Harte staffed the effort to pass the Tribal Law and Order Act (TLO) of 2010.
“When Senator Dorgan asked tribes what their priority was, they answered tribal safety and justice,” says Harte. “The criminal justice system in Indian Country is a complete mess, a maze of jurisdictions. Tribes rely on the federal and state governments to investigate and prosecute crimes. Unfortunately, the law doesn’t hold them accountable. The new law holds the government to a higher standard, and requires it to share information with tribes and submit annual reports on crimes it declines to prosecute. It enhances the power tribes have so they can prosecute these crimes at home.”
Previously, Harte was general counsel and legislative director of the National Indian Gaming Association, focusing on federal legislation and litigation relating to Indian gaming, taxation, economic development, and the right of tribes to participate in the political process. He helped defeat legislative attempts to treat tribes as corporations. He was deputy director of the Office of Tribal Justice within the U.S. Department of Justice and worked to implement President Clinton’s Indian Country Law Enforcement Initiative. He also worked with the Office of the Solicitor General to develop the government’s position on Indian law cases.
Almost all tribes Mapetsi represents operate gaming, but most of its work focuses on immediate needs like health care and infrastructure. A recent success was the Hoh Indian Tribe Safe Homelands Act, which helped the Hoh tribe of Washington state place 500 acres into federal trust so they could relocate from land subject to flooding.
Mapetsi is closely involved with efforts to pass a “Carcieri fix,” to undo a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, which Harte calls a “direct attack on a core aspect of tribal sovereignty.” The court decision ruled that tribes recognized after the 1934 passage of the Indian Reorganization Act cannot take land into trust. Critics of off-reservation gaming applauded the ruling, but in fact, less than 5 percent of the requests to take land into trust involve gaming of any kind. Harte hopes to find some legislative solution to the problem.