Laura Harris was born in Lawton, Oklahoma to Fred and LaDonna Harris in 1961. She is an enrolled citizen of the Comanche Nation and is active in Comanche culture and politics. Harris received a B.A. in Political Science with an emphasis in Native American Studies and a Minor in Latin American Studies from the University of New Mexico in 1984. Harris attended the Cuauhnahauc Instituto of Spanish Language and Mexican Culture. She has traveled extensively throughout Latin America and is nearly fluent in Spanish.
Harris has dedicated most of her life to Indigenous issues and causes. While in school, she was an intern with the Council of Energy Resource Tribes and the National Indian Policy Review Commission. For nearly twenty years she has devoted her time to her passion, Americans for Indian Opportunity, where she held the position of Projects Director and then Executive Vice President. In 2002, Harris was promoted to Executive Director after helping to secure a $3 million endowment for the future development of Native American leaders. She directs the Ambassadors Program, an Indigenous values-based leadership development initiative.
In the Fall of 1997, Harris was appointed senior consultant to the President Bill Clinton’s Initiative on Race. She provided leadership and technical assistance to the Advisory Board and staff in the area of outreach and program development. Harris was a vital link between the President’s Initiative and Native American communities, ensuring Native peoples were part of the national dialogue on race.
Having received training in facilitation from George Mason University Department of Communications faculty and CogniScope from CWA, Inc., Harris helped design the Indigenous Leaders Interactive System™. The ILIS is a consensus building process. Harris uses the consensus building ILIS system, specifically developed for tribal governments and Indian organizations, to facilitate forums with a variety of groups to build coalitions that address the issues facing Tribal America. In particular, Harris is involved in activities aimed at strengthening the self-determination of Indigenous communities.
Furthermore, Harris is a trained and experienced fund-raiser. She attended the Fund Raising School of the Indiana University Center of Philanthropy in 1990. She worked with the fund-raising special events planning firm of Unger Thomas in West Hollywood, California and the Democratic Foundation of Orange County, California. She served as Development, Public Relations and Special Events Associate for the Smithsonian’s Office of Institutional Initiatives and was part of the original staff of the National Museum of American Indian Campaign Office. She has developed numerous fund-raising strategies and has designed campaign and promotional materials. She has planned and hosted many fund-raising events for nonprofit organizations and political candidates.
Harris is a veteran of politics and Capitol Hill. For six years she worked as an administrative correspondent and constituent liaison in the Washington, D.C. office of Senator Jeff Bingaman. She has extensive experience on presidential, senatorial, state and local campaigns, including, Fred Harris’ 1976 presidential campaign and in the national headquarters of Jesse Jackson’s 1984 presidential campaign. She was the Senior Advisor for Native American Policy and Outreach for Howard Dean during his 2004 bid for President and served on the Native American Steering Committee for the Kerry/Edwards campaign. In 2008, Harris took a leave of absence from AIO to serve as the Midwestern States Political Director for Bill Richardson for President and later served on Barack Obama’s Native American Domestic Policy Committee during the campaign. Currently she is the elected Chair of the New Mexico Native American Democratic Caucus.
Harris received the New Mexico YWCA 2001 Women on the Move Award. Additionally, Harris is a member of the National Congress of American Indians, the North American Indian Women’s Association, and the elected Treasurer of the Toyah Band of Comanche of New Mexico.