Associated Press
Larry Echo Hawk, the U.S. Interior Department's assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, addresses a national symposium on the protection of children in Indian Country at Santa Ana Pueblo, N.M., on Tuesday, March 9, 2010. About 300 tribal officials and law enforcement officers are attending the three-day symposium sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from "Why I'm a Mormon" edited by Joseph A. Cannon, which includes the testimonies of 53 influential members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I had not been a good student through junior high and high school. I struggled because my mind was not focused on school. I loved sports but not academics.

The Book of Mormon was the first large book that I ever read from cover to cover. I read 10 pages every night, never missing a nightly reading.

When I finished the entire book, I knelt down and prayed. At that moment I had my first strong spiritual experience. I knew then the Book of Mormon was true. Until that moment I had not realized that Heavenly Father had been watching over me and giving me answers to all my prayers for healing and for a witness of truth.

It seemed to me that the Book of Mormon was about my Pawnee Indian ancestors. The Book of Mormon talks about the Lamanites, a people who would be scattered, smitten and nearly destroyed. But in the end they would be blessed if they followed the Savior.

That is exactly what I saw in my own family's history. When I read the Book of Mormon, it gave me very positive feelings about who I am, knowledge that Heavenly Father had something for me to accomplish in life, and instruction in how I could be an instrument in His hands in serving the needs of other people.

Before the end of my senior year in high school, I had scholarship offers to play football for the University of New Mexico and Brigham Young University. My hard work, encouraged by Brother Boren, had paid off, opening the door to a college education. But, more important, a seemingly freak accident had opened a spiritual door through which celestial blessings have continued to pour on me and my family.

While I was a student at BYU, I heard President Spencer W. Kimball speak several times. He was well known as the apostle who had a great love for Indian people. He gave a speech titled "This Is My Vision" in which he related a dream about the Indian people.

He said, "I saw you as lawyers. I saw you looking after your people. I saw you as heads of cities and of states and in elected office" (see Dell Van Orden, "Emotional Farewell in Mexico," Church News, Feb. 19 1977, page 3).

To me it was like a challenge from a prophet of God. I carried an excerpt from that talk in my scriptures. At a certain point in my life, I reread the passage where he said we could become leaders of cities and states, and even though I had never envisioned running for elective office, I knew that I could and should do it.

Larry Echo Hawk, an enrolled member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, is the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs. He previously was a professor at Brigham Young University's J. Reuben Clark School of Law and has also served as the attorney general of Idaho and in the Idaho House of Representatives.

More excerpts from "Why I'm a Mormon":

Alex Boye

Stephanie Nielson

Cecilie "CC" Lundgreen

Coming this week

Steve Young