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Obama wants EchoHawk at BIA

WASHINGTON – Confirming previous reports by Indian Country Today, President Barack Obama announced April 10 that he plans to nominate Larry EchoHawk as assistant secretary for Indian affairs with the Department of the Interior.

If confirmed by the Senate, the job will see EchoHawk lead the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The job is often viewed as rife with difficulties, since it focuses on serving the many interests of the hundreds of tribes throughout the nation, while still being part of a federal government that sometimes has divergent interests.

Obama said in a statement that he is confident EchoHawk will “meet and exceed the high standard that the American people expect and deserve.”

After Obama announced the news, EchoHawk told ICT via e-mail, “I have been instructed not to comment.”

A member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, EchoHawk was the first Native American elected to a constitutional statewide office, serving as attorney general of Idaho from 1991 to 1995. He had earlier worked on behalf of various Indian tribes as a lawyer.

EchoHawk has for some years been a confidante of Obama’s already confirmed head of the Department of the Interior, former Colorado Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar.

Salazar was quick to praise his selection.

“President Obama and I are committed to empowering American Indian people, restoring the integrity of a nation-to-nation relationship with tribes, fulfilling the United States’ trust responsibilities and working cooperatively to build stronger economies and safer Indian communities,” Salazar said soon after Obama’s announcement.

“Larry EchoHawk has the right leadership abilities, legislative experience and legal expertise to bring about the transformative improvements we all seek for Indian country. He is a dedicated public servant and an excellent choice for assistant secretary for Indian affairs.”

EchoHawk already has at least one friend in the Senate as well. In a speech given at a forum hosted by the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians in California Jan. 24, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, hailed EchoHawk’s merits.

In addition to his legal work for tribes, EchoHawk has served on the American Indian Services National Advisory Board and Board of Trustees, the Indian Alcoholism Counseling and Recovery House Program, and the American Indian Community Resource Center Board.

When ICT first reported soon after Obama’s inauguration that EchoHawk was being vetted for the BIA leadership role, some detractors said his previous stances while working for the state of Idaho were anti-Indian gaming.

Scott Crowell, a Washington state lawyer who has represented several tribes over many years, issued an open letter noting that when EchoHawk served as Idaho’s attorney general from 1991 to 1995, he called on the governor to change the language of state legislation so the state no longer would have a legal obligation under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to negotiate for Class III gaming with Idaho’s tribes.

EchoHawk soon apologized privately to several tribes, including some from his former home state of Idaho, for his past actions on Indian gaming.

Several tribal leaders ended up sending Obama letters of support for EchoHawk, although some still quietly worried whether his nomination would be best for Indian country.

The loudest detractors, though, quickly quieted their campaign to derail EchoHawk’s nomination.

Larry EchoHawk’s brother, John EchoHawk, leads the Native American Rights Fund and served on Obama’s transition team. Several of his family members are involved in Native legal advocacy.