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Obama Taps Farmington High Grad For BIA Post
by Steve Lynn - The Farmingtom (NM) Daily Times

FARMINGTON — President Barack Obama's nomination of a Farmington High School graduate to help lead the Bureau of Indian Affairs has locals all agog.

Obama chose Larry Echohawk, pending confirmation by the U.S. Senate, to serve as assistant secretary of Indian Affairs. Echohawk would oversee the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education.

Echohawk, a Brigham Young University law professor and Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma member, grew up in Farmington across the street from Farmington High School on Sunset Avenue. He graduated from the high school in 1966.

Echohawk was the first American Indian elected to a statewide constitutional office as Idaho's Democratic attorney general from 1990 to 1994. Echohawk and his wife, Terry, have six children.

Farmingtonians praised Echohawk, a former Scorpions defensive back who went on to play for Brigham Young.

In addition to football, Echohawk played basketball and track at Farmington High, Principal Mark Driskell said.

"We're very proud that this gentleman is given this high, important position," he said. "We're proud that he's a Farmington High School graduate."

Echohawk would bring knowledge of northwest New Mexico to the position, Farmington City Councilwoman Mary Fischer said.

"I think it's a good thing for the whole country," Fischer said. "He's very bright, very well-educated and very knowledgeable in the law and certainly understands the issues facing the Navajos."

Rob Roberts, a retired manager for utility company PNM, grew up with Echohawk. The men played football and baseball together and graduated in the same class.

"I was just really surprised and impressed when he was attorney general of Idaho," Roberts said. "That was just a super accomplishment. That's a tough state to be a Democrat in."

Leading the Bureau of Indian Affairs will present Echohawk with a new challenge, Roberts said.

"The BIA needs some improvement and I think it's in the pretty well-entrenched bureaucracy," he said. "I think Larry's going to come into it with a real sharp and open mind."

Rep. Tom Taylor, R-Farmington, graduated in the same class as Echohawk. Taylor said Echohawk's experience as attorney general and work with American Indians in Idaho qualifies him for the position.

"He'll do an outstanding job," Taylor said.

Doug Moeller, a Farmington attorney, has known Echohawk since Moeller was 11 years old. The men were members of the same Mormon church.

"He's looks like he could be the president of the United States — a very handsome fellow," Moeller said.

Echohawk, who often travels to northwest New Mexico to speak, will stand up for American Indian rights, Moeller said.

"If I had to put my money on a politician, it'd be Larry," he said. "He's a good man."

Echohawk began his legal career as an attorney for impoverished American Indians in California, according to a prepared statement. He later opened a private law office in Salt Lake City where he focused on representing tribes and individual American Indians.

He also started an American Indian paralegal program to encourage tribal members to participate in law and was hired as tribal attorney for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in Fort Hall, Idaho. He served two terms in the Idaho legislature.

Echohawk declined to comment for this article because the Obama Administration asked him not to interview with media until the Senate completes its confirmation process.

Running the BIA is an "incredibly demanding post" that will require leadership and change, Marissa Padilla, spokeswoman for Sen. Tom Udall, wrote in an email.

"Sen. Udall is looking forward to reviewing Mr. Echohawk's record and beginning the hearing process," Padilla wrote.

Steve Lynn:

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