Sunday, May 2, 2010

Did You Know That Assistant Secretary Of The Interior For Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk Is A Mormon?

I didn't; I found out by accident after reading this Deseret News article about his recent appearance at Utah Valley University (UVU). On Friday April 30th, 2010, Larry Echo Hawk delivered an address during UVU's commencement ceremony, challenging the 3,260 graduates in attendance to use their education to make this a better nation and a better world. [Ed. Note: The official Department of the Interior press release announcing his appointment spells his last name "Echo Hawk", so I use that as my standard.]

Echo Hawk, who is an enrolled member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, spoke of his heritage, a painful history in which his grandfather, named for being a humble warrior, was pushed from his own land to the land the federal government deemed a home for the country's American Indian population. Throughout the years since, Echo Hawk said, his people have been promised many things that were never granted as they "were scattered, smitten and nearly destroyed." Not until his 1990 election as Idaho's Attorney General did Echo Hawk realize what he calls "the full promise of America." The American Indian, Mormon, and Democrat was not favored to win in the extremely Republican state. Yet he won nonetheless, the first American Indian in U.S. history to achieve that distinction.

But although Echo Hawk is an American Indian, he considers himself an American first. "I only wanted to do what is right and just, not only for the first Americans, but for America," he said. "I believe in America. I believe in the spirit of America. A spirit that says no matter who you are, whatever race, ethnic origin, gender or whatever your economic station in life may be, that this must be a land of opportunity for all people."

A former U.S. Marine, Larry Echo Hawk began his law career as a legal services attorney working for impoverished Indian people in California, then opened a private law office in Salt Lake City. In 1977, he was named Chief General Legal Counsel to the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in Idaho, a position he held for more than eight years. served for 14 years as a Professor of Law at Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School where he taught Federal Indian law, criminal law, criminal procedure, evidence, criminal trial practice, and published several scholarly papers.

This attracted the notice of President Barack Obama, who was seeking Cabinet officials who were both diverse and competent. Those two qualities are not always mutually inclusive, but in this case both are bundled in the same package. Obama offered him a position, and he accepted it, being confirmed by the United States Senate as the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs for the U.S. Department of the Interior on May 19, 2009, and sworn into office by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on May 22, 2009 (he is also referred to in some sources as the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs). In addition to carrying out the Department’s trust responsibilities regarding the management of tribal and individual Indian trust lands and assets, Echo Hawk is responsible for promoting the self-determination and economic self-sufficiency of the nation’s 564 Federally-recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and their 1.9 million enrolled members. He and his wife Terry have six children and 23 grandchildren. He is the second known Mormon to be hired by Obama; shortly thereafter, Obama appointed former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. as Ambassador to China.

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