Interior nominee EchoHawk pledges to work for Indian country

McClatchy NewspapersMay 7, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Former Idaho Attorney General Larry EchoHawk pledged Thursday to focus on economic development, education and law enforcement if the Senate confirms him as the assistant interior secretary in charge of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

EchoHawk, a member of the Pawnee tribe, told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that he's seen firsthand the effects of poverty on Indian reservations. As a former prosecutor, EchoHawk said, he also is well aware of the effects of crime on reservation communities.

"In my mind's eye, I can see the faces of people, people that I love and care for, that suffered the effects of poverty and the social ills that flow from poverty," EchoHawk told the panel. "My family has been blessed with education. I would see it as my responsibility to do everything I can to see that every American Indian and Alaska Native youth receives an opportunity for a quality education, and a good job and economic prosperity."

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who was New Mexico's attorney general while EchoHawk held the same post in Idaho, called him a "deep and innovative thinker." He'll need to be to address the issues facing Indian country, Udall said, including Indian gaming, law enforcement, housing, health care, education and economic development.

If the committee confirms EchoHawk at its next meeting and the full Senate follows, he'd take over a troubled federal agency that had little oversight under the Bush administration. The Bureau of Indian Affairs had a leader just four of the eight years of the past administration, a vacancy that Indian Affairs Chairman Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., called "shameful."

"I want the BIA to work well, and I want the BIA to work well for the benefit of the first Americans," EchoHawk said.

His toughest questioner, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told the nominee that he wasn't satisfied with his answers on Indian gaming issues and said he wanted a promise that EchoHawk would pay sufficient attention to gaming regulation as the head of the BIA.

EchoHawk, who's 60, served as Idaho's attorney general from 1991 to 1995. He's a former state prosecutor and practicing attorney who teaches at the Brigham Young University law school in Provo, Utah.

EchoHawk attended the hearing Thursday with his wife, Terry, and five of his six children. A native of Farmington, N.M., EchoHawk attended Brigham Young University on a football scholarship, then received his law degree from the University of Utah.

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