American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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EchoHawk, Larry

Nationally distinguished for his work as a lawyer, legislator, and attorney general, Larry EchoHawk (Pawnee, b. 1948) started out on this path when the Shoshone-Bannock tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation hired him as their chief general counsel in the late 1970s. Over the next few years he won a seat in the Idaho Legislature, held the post of prosecuting attorney for Bannock County, and in 1991 was elected as attorney general of the state of Idaho. In 1994 he ran for governor of the state but lost. Since that time he has served as a law professor at Brigham Young University.

EchoHawk was born to a full-blooded Pawnee father and a German mother who raised him in Farmington, New Mexico. His father was an alcoholic. In elementary school he learned that Indians were dirty, savage heathens. He wasn't quite sure what to think of the fact that his legendary great-grandfather had fought on the side of the cavalry during the Indian Wars. During this time he struggled with his identity. At age fourteen he joined the Mormon Church. After reading the Book of Mormon he no longer felt inferior and found renewed pride in his heritage. He began to set goals and soon excelled in high school athletics. As a child he had never expected to attend college, but when Brigham Young University (BYU) offered him a football scholarship in 1966 he accepted.

At BYU, EchoHawk excelled both on and off the football field. He was named to the Western Athletic Conference All-Academic football team in 1969 and prepared, upon graduation, to become a coach and educator. His older brother, John EchoHawk, persuaded him to change his career plans. John was soon to become the executive director of the Native American Rights Fund. He told Larry that attending law school would give him the power to change people's lives. Larry believed him and obtained his JD from the University of Utah in 1973.

After graduation, Larry spent a few years in Oakland working for California Indian Legal Services. In 1977 the Shoshone-Bannock tribes hired him as their attorney. He spent nine years in this position. In the 1980s he served two terms in the Idaho House of Representatives, during which he was named the best freshman legislator. In 1991 he made a bid for the position of state attorney general. Political analysts in Idaho figured he faced three disadvantages: He was a Mormon, a Democrat, and an Indian. On the national scene, however, his prospects looked quite promising. During the campaign he became the first Native American to head a state delegation at a national political convention. He prevailed and became the first American Indian in U.S. history to win a statewide election to a state constitutional office. However, not everyone viewed this as an unqualified victory for Native peoples.

Larry EchoHawk upset Idaho tribal leaders when he proposed an antigambling amendment to the state constitution. EchoHawk insisted early on that he was carrying out his obligations to uphold the state's laws. His Mormon upbringing undoubtedly was another reason for his opposition to tribal gaming. This stance cost him the support of Idaho tribes, who argued that tribal sovereignty and congressional legislation provided the necessary legal authorization for their casino operations. However, these local issues did little to stop EchoHawk's rise to national prominence. Newsweek named him one of twenty People to Watch in the West. In 1992 he served as a principal speaker at the Democratic national convention. EchoHawk's political fortunes began shifting two years later. Although he easily won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, several Idaho tribes were reluctant to support him. Even though he had led his opponent in all the polls, on election day EchoHawk experienced his first loss in politics.

Since 1994, EchoHawk has served as a professor at the Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School. He has also become a stake (administrative office) president in the Mormon Church. In recent years he has called for greater tribal sovereignty and changed his stance on Indian gaming, finding it important to the economic development of tribes.

Sterling Fluharty


Further Reading
EchoHawk, Larry. 1995. "Achieving and Preserving the Promise of America." Brigham Young University 1994–95 Devotional & Fireside Speeches, 189–194. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Publications & Graphics; EchoHawk, Terry. 2003. Why Do You Call Me Little Echo Hawk? The Story of My Name. Scottsdale, AZ: Agreka Books.
 

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