Indianz.Com > News > National Congress of American Indians loses another high-ranking staffer
Yvette Roubideaux
Yvette Roubideaux has served as director of the National Congress of American Indians Policy Research Center (PRC) since April 2017. Photo by Kevin Abourezk
National Congress of American Indians loses another high-ranking staffer
Monday, July 11, 2022

The National Congress of American Indians is bidding farewell to one of its highest-ranking employees this week.

Yvette Roubideaux, a citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, is due to step down as director of NCAI’s Policy Research Center (PRC) on Friday. She has served in the leadership role since 2017, one in which she oversaw a small staff that focuses on the ways in which tribal, federal and state policy affect Indian Country.

Roubideaux’s departure has long been in the works, owing primarily to family obligations. An NCAI spokesperson confirmed that she is leaving to take care of her elderly mother, as indicated in a resignation letter she previously submitted to the largest inter-tribal advocacy organization in the United States.

Quoting from the resignation letter, the NCAI spokesperson told Indianz.Com that Roubideaux, who previously served as director of the Indian Health Service, is “leaving to ‘focus and take care of her 91-year old mother.'”

Roubideaux’s exit comes as NCAI continues to operate without the presence of its highest-ranking employee. Just a month ago, the organization announced that Chief Executive Officer Dante Desiderio had been placed on administrative leave ahead of its first in-person conference in more than two years, as Indianz.Com reported on June 10.

The NCAI spokesperson confirmed that Desiderio remains on leave, though no public explanation has been provided for his absence. He was hired only a year ago.

At the time of the development, Roubideaux was named to an “internal” leadership team was placed in charge of the organization in absence of the CEO. At the time, though, NCAI already knew the PRC director was going to be stepping down, according to a former employee.

The former NCAI employee told Indianz.Com that Roubideaux submitted her resignation letter after her only two remaining staff members — both Native women — recently quit the organization. The staff page for the PRC currently lists just one employee.

The two Native women’s names have since been removed from the main NCAI staff page — though not until after they had long left the organization, according to the same former employee.

National Congress of American Indians Policy Research Center
The staff page for the National Congress of American Indians Policy Research Center (PRC) currently lists just one employee — Yvette Roubideaux. Two staff members she previously oversaw as director of the PRC recently left the organization. Screenshot taken June 11, 2022.

The delay in keeping the staff page updated speaks to an issue that some tribal leaders have raised in their complaints about Desiderio. Since he came on board in June 2021, some 19 employees have left — meaning that half of the employee base at NCAI has seen turnover in the past year.

In stories published on June 10 and on June 13, Indianz.Com reported that at least 15 employees had left the organization. The figure was based on reviews of changes made to NCAI’s staff page since Desiderio was hired.

But after being informed by the former employee about the delays in updating the page and about the turnover at the PRC, Indianz.Com found that an additional four people had left the organization. The number confirms the figure of 19 that had been previously cited by another person close to the situation.

Roubideaux’s departure now brings the total to 20, accounting for the loss of at least one employee every month since Desiderio came on board at NCAI.

According to the NCAI spokesperson, the organization’s executive committee has held at least two meetings to discuss Desiderio’s employment status. The group consists of tribal leaders from across Indian Country, a number of whom attended the conference in Alaska where the CEO was absent.

A tribal leader who sits on the executive committee and who attended the mid-year conference and marketplace in Anchorage told Indianz.Com that little information has been provided about Desiderio’s leave. The person said that at least one meeting to discuss the situation was abruptly postponed, with the group being told of the need to seek legal advice about employment matters.

Amid the uncertainty, NCAI has continued to serve as a voice for issues affecting Indian Country, especially regarding the slew of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that were released in the past month. Last Thursday, tribal leaders gathered to discuss the impacts of the controversial ruling in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta.

NCAI President Fawn Sharp happened to be in Washington, D.C., when Castro-Huerta was released on June 29, on the second to the last day of the high court’s session. She was participating in meetings at the Embassy of Tribal Nations, which serves as the organization’s headquarters and where Desiderio and other on-the-ground employees maintain offices.

“When the news broke, we were all in disbelief as we sat there in the embassy,” Sharp said during the Castro-Huerta roundtable that NCAI co-hosted with the Native American Rights Fund, the non-profit legal firm.

National Congress of American Indians: The Castro-Huerta Decision: Understanding the Case and Discussing Next Steps

By a vote of 5 to 4, the justices held that the state governments can prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes against Indian victims in Indian Country. The ruling comes even though tribes — particularly those in Oklahoma, where the case emerged — did not consent to an imposition on their sovereignty.

“The Supreme Court’s decision is nothing less than a direct attack on the sovereignty of all tribal nations,” said Sharp, who also serves as vice president of the Quinault Nation, based in the state of Washington.

Sharp is serving in the second term of her presidency at NCAI, having won re-election during the organization’s annual conference in 2021. The meeting took place virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before that, the last in-person gathering for NCAI had occurred in February 2020 in Washington, D.C.

After Desiderio’s absence was reported by Indianz.Com, NCAI issued a statement a day later on June 11 in which Sharp said the executive committee placed him on “temporary administrative leave.” She added that “we are not in a position to share more information” about his employment situation.

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