This story has been corrected since it was first posted.
Reporters Kevin Abourezk and Acee Agoyo from Indianz.com posted a lengthy article Friday regarding John Dossett, an attorney for the National Congress of American Indians, who has been accused of multiple instances of sexual harassment.
According to the article, the harassment allegations could be responsible for a high turnover rate of employees within NCAI. The article also singled out the recent departure of Nicole Hallingstad, who resigned as director of operations, as part of what she described as a broad pattern of mismanagement.
John Dossett has been employed by the NCAI since 1995, and up until last month, he was serving as general counsel, NCAI’s senior-most legal position. According to Indianz.com, while “Dossett was working on issues like the Tribal Law and Order Act and the Violence Against Women Act, he was being accused of harassing, intimidating and pressuring female employees at NCAI…”
The article also cites several interviews from people who remained anonymous and commented on the behavior of Dossett.
"As a new staff, I was told by a colleague, 'You are a pretty young Native woman, beware of John Dossett. Don't be caught in a room alone with him,’” the former employee said to Indianz.com. "It's the worst kept secret in D.C.'s Indian circles.”
Sam Owl, Eastern Band of Cherokee, was the former chief financial officer at NCAI who has stated that he tried to address concerns of Dossett and others and eventually left the organization. Owl has threatened a potential wrongful termination lawsuit against NCAI and sought severance pay for being dismissed.
Nicole Hallingstad, Tlingit and Haida, left her position as director of operations, and in her letter to the NCAI executive committee said:
“Committed staff does not lightly leave an organization they love and a mission they are passionate about fulfilling … 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.”
Indian Country Today corrected this article because Hallingstad said she did not submit the letter to the press, but that it was "an internal letter, never intended for public consumption."
"When I was contacted by a reporter with Indianz.com who notified me they had received and were going to publish the letters, I made a statement that I stand by the content of my letters," she said in an email.
NCAI’s executive director Jacqueline Pata, Tlingit and Haida, has said she is not able to respond to any allegations because as personnel matters are subject to privacy laws.
“NCAI takes very seriously its anti-harassment and anti-retaliation obligations and policies … It also takes seriously its commitment to its employees to protect their privacy when handling such sensitive matters. As such, NCAI does not comment publicly regarding allegations, investigations or related personnel matters.”
Pata has held NCAI’s top staff position since 2001.
NCAI’s President Jefferson Keel, Chickasaw, also issued a public statement.
"I would like to underscore how seriously NCAI takes its obligations to staff. We could not do the important work with which we are entrusted without our incredible team. We are continually learning and improving our internal processes, procedures, and communications with staff. Although staff may not always be aware of the work being done by the Executive Committee, that does not mean the work is not taking place.”
“NCAI does not comment publicly regarding personnel matters, including into allegations of wrongdoing, though all matters are investigated promptly, thoroughly, and appropriate steps are taken, at which point NCAI considers the matters resolved. The complaints and allegations in Ms. Hallingstad’s letter are no different and were each handled promptly, investigated thoroughly and appropriate actions were taken. But these matters are and will remain confidential personnel matters about which NCAI simply will not comment.”
“Ms. Hallingstad also made statements regarding NCAI’s staff turnover that are simply wrong and require a response. Ms. Hallingstad stated that NCAI has experienced 80% staff turnover in the past three years, and that 33 full-time regular employees have left NCAI during that time. Instead NCAI experienced a range of 17-33% annual staff turnover in the last four years which averages to a 25% annual turnover rate. According to the 2016 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey conducted by GuideStar and Nonprofit HR, nonprofits tend to have close to 20% turnover each year."
John Dossett, who is now listed as senior counsel, also publicly commented. “I understand that a colleague complained about my behavior at a conference approximately two years ago. I have consistently denied, and continue to strongly deny, that I engaged in any improper behavior, or that I intended to make her feel uncomfortable. Out of respect for that individual, I will have no further comment.
I will not comment on Ms. Hallingstad’s tenure with NCAI, or the views she espouses regarding NCAI management, other than to say that I strongly disagree with her characterization of NCAI leadership and question her motives.”
The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.