Keith Harper

Former Senior Fellow in International and Public Affairs
Areas of Interest Multilateral Diplomacy, Human Rights, Foreign Policy, National Security, American Indian Law & Policy, the Sustainable Development Goals, Domestic Political and Judicial Reform and Social Justice.


Ambassador Keith M. Harper, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is the first Native American to be named a US Ambassador, serving as U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. Human Rights Council from 2014 to 2017 based in Geneva, Switzerland. He represented the plaintiff class of 500,000 individual Indians and served as class counsel in the landmark Indian trust funds lawsuit, Cobell v. Salazar. Ultimately the case settled for $3.4 billion, which represents the largest settlement of a lawsuit against the United States in history. 

From 2010 to 2014, Ambassador Harper served as Commissioner on the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.  He also served as a chair for Native American policy in the 2008 Obama for America presidential campaign and then as a member of the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team in the Energy and Environment Cluster.  Ambassador Harper was previously Senior Staff Attorney and head of the Washington, DC office of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) from 1995 to 2006. During his tenure at NARF, he also taught Federal Indian Law as an adjunct professor at Catholic University, Columbus School of Law and at American University Washington College of Law.  Ambassador Harper served as a Supreme Court Justice on the Supreme Court of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians from 2007 to 2008 and as an Appellate Justice on the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court from 2001 to 2007.

While attending New York University School of Law, Ambassador Harper served as Articles and Notes Editor of the Journal of International Law and Politics, was a Root-Tilden-Snow Scholar and a Fellow at Center for International Studies.  After graduation, he was law clerk to the Honorable Lawrence W. Pierce on the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Ambassador Harper is the recipient of numerous awards and other recognitions, including: United Nation Association F Allen “Tex” Harris Award (2017); National Congress of American Indians Special Recognition Award (2017); Cherokee National Statesman Award (2014); American Bar Association “Human Rights Hero” (2014); election to membership at the American Law Institute (2012); the Native American Bar Association, DC, Award for Significant Contributions to Indian Law and Policy (2012); LawDragon 500 (top 500 lawyers in United States) (2010); selection as one of 50 “Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America” by the National Law Journal (2008); Service Award by Annual People of Color Legal Scholarship Conference for Achievements and Commitments to Justice (2010); Chambers USA:  America's Leading Lawyers for Business (2009-2013, 2019-2020, 2021); The Best Lawyers in America® (2009-2013, 2020); Washington DC "Super Lawyer" by Super Lawyers magazine (2010, 2012-2014, 2019-2020); NYU. Black, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander Alumni Association Outstanding Professional Achievement Honor (2009); Rockefeller Foundation Next Generation of Leaders Fellow (2002-2004); University of Arizona School of Law - IPLP Colloquium Senior Fellow (2003); Henry H. Fowler Fellow on Public Policy, Roanoke College (1999); Skadden, Arps Fellow (1995-97).

Ambassador Harper serves on numerous boards of non-profit organizations including the following: American Constitution Society; Defenders of Wildlife; United Nations Association – National Capitol Area and the Artistic Freedom Initiative. For the past two years, the American Bar Association President has appointed Ambassador Harper as a Special Advisor to the ABA’s Rule of Law Initiative.