KAMILCHE, Wash. – Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Larry EchoHawk made his first visit to the Pacific Northwest as the head of the BIA to meet with leaders of the 24 treaty Indian tribes in the area. The day-long meeting July 31 at the Squaxin Island Tribe’s event center focused on natural resources management and the federal government’s trust responsibility to tribes.
“I’m familiar with the issues that concern Pacific Northwest tribes,” EchoHawk said. “I just have some catching up to do. I’m glad to have this opportunity to listen and learn from you.”
EchoHawk was recently confirmed by the Senate as assistant secretary for Indian Affairs. A member of the Pawnee Nation, EchoHawk was elected attorney general of Idaho in 1990, the first American Indian in U.S. history elected as a state attorney general. He also served as a county prosecutor in 1986 and served two consecutive terms in the Idaho legislature.
Prior to his appointment, he was a law professor for 14 years at Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School.
“We’re grateful that Larry accepted our invitation,” said Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and member of the Nisqually Tribe. “Larry’s from the Northwest but has been away from Indian country for awhile, teaching law. He asked us to help get him up to speed.”
Tribal leaders shared their concerns that the federal government has failed in the past to uphold their treaty rights.
“The key words in all of the treaties are: ‘The right to take fish,’” said Rebecca Miles, chair of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and member of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee. “Every single word has been litigated in federal court to interpret what is the tribes’ right to take fish. Every battle we have won.”
“We are gatherers and we are harvesters, all of us,” Frank said. “This is our homeland. This is where we live. We don’t leave. We have to take care of our country. We manage fish from Alaska all the way to Mexico. We are managers, the tribes, every one.”