President Barack Obama on Friday picked Brigham Young University law professor Larry EchoHawk to lead the Bureau of Indian Affairs, making him the first high-profile Mormon and first Utahn to join the administration's senior ranks.
EchoHawk, a member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, has lived and worked throughout the West. He made history in 1990 as the first American Indian elected to statewide office when he won Idaho's attorney general race. After a failed bid for Gem State governor, EchoHawk, a Democrat, relocated to Utah, where he started teaching courses on criminal law and federal Indian law at BYU.
"Larry EchoHawk has the right leadership abilities, legislative experience and legal expertise," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said, "to bring about the transformative improvements we all seek for Indian country."
EchoHawk's official title -- if the Senate confirms him -- would be assistant secretary for Indian affairs within Interior. He would lead the bureau responsible for providing services to 1.7 million American Indians and Alaskan natives and for managing 66 million acres held in trust by the United States for tribes.
"I, for one, have been anxiously awaiting this appointment," said Forrest Cuch, director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, "and I was wondering why it was taking so long."
For months, rumors of EchoHawk's impending selection have been bandied about among Indian communities. The Salt Lake Tribune first reported his likely nomination in early February. But some tribes objected to the choice because of his previous stance on Indian gaming.
While he served as Idaho's attorney general, EchoHawk suggested changing that state's constitution to prevent gaming on tribal lands. In recent weeks, he has reached out to tribal leaders in Idaho, saying he regretted those actions, according to Indian Country Today.
Cuch said the dispute has been "blown out of proportion."
"Larry is a very reasonable person. He is going to work with all the factions and all groups, simple as that," he said. "And he is very diplomatic in working with state and other entities, and that is what tribes must do."
His BYU colleagues also credited EchoHawk, 60, for his judgment and willingness to delve into difficult issues.
"His scholarship has focused in practical problems like juvenile justice on the reservation," said former law school dean Kevin Worthen, now BYU's vice president for advancement. "He can make headway on even the most difficult challenges."
EchoHawk also is involved in a Pocatello, Idaho, law office that bears his name. His sons, Paul and Mark, work there as well.
"We are very proud of him," Paul EchoHawk said moments after hearing of his father's nomination, "and we're very excited about the positive things he can do in that position for Indian country."
Larry EchoHawk, a former U.S. Marine, earned a bachelor's degree at BYU, where he also played football, and a law degree at the University of Utah.
He and his wife, Terry, have six children and 22 grandchildren. He also is the president of an LDS stake.
Tribune reporter Brian Maffly contributed to this story.
Personal » Age, 60; member of Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma; raised in New Mexico; member of the LDS Church. He and his wife, Terry, have six kids.
Educational » Undergraduate degree, Brigham Young University, law degree, University of Utah.
Political » Served in Idaho House, 1982 to 1986; elected Idaho attorney general, 1990; first American Indian to win a statewide race; appointed by President Bill Clinton to coordinate efforts to combat juvenile delinquency.
Professional » Teaches at Brigham Young University law school. Practices law with his sons at EchoHawk Law Offices in Pocatello, Idaho.
Larry EchoHawk first made history in 1990 as the first American Indian elected to statewide office when he won Idaho's attorney general race.