The National Congress of American Indians announced Wednesday that Executive Director Jacqueline Pata will resign—but not right away—over her handling of misconduct allegations against another top official.
Pata, a citizen of the Tlingit and Haida Tribes, was placed on leave in October after John Dossett, a non-Native lawyer, was fired from his post as NCAI’s general counsel following multiple allegations of verbal and sexual harassment. Despite the disturbing details spurring her suspension and resignation, Pata will be allowed to continue running NCAI until her successor is named, the organization said in a statement sent to reporters.
NCAI is America’s oldest and largest inter-tribal group; the organization is based in DC and advises legislators and private entities. (Disclosure: I consulted for NCAI once, when NCAI was fielding advice on how to operate their new digital media outlet, Indian Country Today.) Pata is the longest serving executive director in NCAI’s history, having been in the role for 18 years.
Last fall’s suspension was the second disciplinary action she’s faced in that position; Pata was suspended for a week in 2014 following her husband’s role in a RICO lawsuit filed by the Paskenta Band concerning the theft and misuse of $6 million in tribal funds. Her husband, Chris, is still employed by NCAI. Pata also still sits on the board of Sealaska, a for-profit Alaskan Native corporation that, among other things, successfully fought against the protection of salmon spawning grounds in 2018.
The reasons for Pata’s recent suspension were detailed in reports by High Country News and Indianz.com, who revealed that staffers were dissatisfied with Pata’s handling of the Dossett allegations—according to emails reviewed by HCN, Pata was informed of a harassment report within two weeks of its occurrence but didn’t respond for another two months, at which point she claimed the victim had a substance abuse problem. Pata’s actions led to a mini-exodus of NCAI staffers that continued even after Pata’s indefinite suspension. In addition to the internal fissures, 40 tribes issued a no-confidence vote in Pata’s leadership last fall.
“NCAI’s employees had been pleading for help for years and being ignored by the executive director and the board officers,” she said.
Hallingstad also called on NCAI to be more transparent moving forward and to release the audit being completed by an independent investigator to the public. At the organization’s winter session last week, NCAI President Jefferson Keel publicly commented on the investigation for the first time, saying that based on the findings of the unreleased review, “I can assure you that [NCAI] is indeed a safe place for women to work.” Keel did not provide any further details or mention when or if the report would be made publicly available.
As Pata hails from Alaska, she spent a majority of her months on leave there, according to Indianz.com, where she tried to set up her next gig, at the Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority, which handles millions in federal funds to provide affordable housing to the residents of southeast Alaska. A key stipulation for her to receive a high-level position there, per Indianz.com, was that she emerge from the suspension unscathed. With Keel and NCAI’s announcement that she will be able to return to her duties until a replacement is found, it would seem that box has been checked.
If you have any information about NCAI’s investigation or would like to speak securely about any aspects of NCAI during Pata’s tenure, you can contact Splinter here.