Elder Echo Hawk reflects on law career

Published: Friday, March 15 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Every year the J. Reuben Clark Law Society holds a fireside at the LDS Conference Center in late January. The event is broadcast around the world via the church’s satellite system, and also streamed live over the Internet.

At these annual firesides, the law society bestows its Distinguished Service Award upon a high-profile figure from legal and/or LDS circles. Recent recipients include President James E. Faust, formerly of the LDS Church's First Presidency; President Boyd K. Packer, of the Quorum of the Twelve; and retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The honoree, in turn, delivers a prepared speech to the law society.

On Jan. 25, Elder Larry Echo Hawk accepted the 2013 Distinguished Service Award. Elder Echo Hawk, now a general authority for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, previously served as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior from 2009-12.

Throughout his uniquely American success story, Elder Echo Hawk, a convert to the LDS faith as a teenager, has simultaneously navigated social circles that are so disparate from one another as to seem mutually exclusive.

“I’ve had a very interesting life,” Elder Echo Hawk told the Deseret News recently. “I’ve done a variety of different things, and it’s always been a work in progress.”

As a hard-hitting safety for BYU's football team from 1966-69, he was in the minority as an American Indian who played Division I college football. By being elected attorney general of Idaho in 1990, he became the first American Indian to ever win a state office via statewide election. After narrowly losing the Idaho gubernatorial election in 1994, Elder Echo Hawk migrated to Provo and taught 14 years at BYU's law school — during which time he was the only faculty member who had transitioned straight from elected office to academia.

"I’ve had a lot of things come to me that I never thought would happen," he said. "It’s beyond my wildest dreams as a convert to the church in my teenage years to think that I would ever be called to serve as a general authority. ... It was beyond my wildest dreams to ever think I’d go to college, and it was beyond my wildest dreams to think I’d be a college football player. And it was certainly beyond my wildest dreams to ever think I’d hold a statewide elective office.”

H. Reese Hansen, the retired dean of BYU’s law school, is the man who persuaded Elder Echo Hawk to try teaching law students after his term as Idaho attorney general ended in early 1995. Hansen — who first met Echo Hawk when they both attended the University of Utah’s law school during the early 1970s — recently spoke to the Deseret News about his former classmate’s character.

“I think that you really can’t describe Larry Echo Hawk with only words,” Hansen said. “I think you have to meet him, shake his hand, look into his eye, hear him talk (and) the tone of his voice and the sincerity of what he says — and you’ll know it’s all true. He is absolutely authentic.”

At the Jan. 25 fireside, Elder Echo Hawk titled his remarks “Instruments in His Hands: Doing this Great and Marvelous Work.” He spoke at length about his three years as the federal administrator responsible for the Bureaus of Indian Affairs and Indian Education. The hiring process to become assistant secretary of the interior for Indian affairs started with an unexpected phone call from the President Barack Obama transition team on Jan. 13, 2009.

“The caller simply said, ‘We have an airline ticket for you, and we want to talk to you in Washington, D.C.,’ ” Elder Echo Hawk recalled. “As I had not had anything to do with Barack Obama’s campaign, and I had not applied for any jobs, this was a complete surprise to me.”

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