Elder Larry Echo Hawk: 'Lifting people' a lifelong choice

Elder Larry Echo Hawk recently called to the Seventy

As a young man, Elder Larry Echo Hawk heard Spencer W. Kimball give a speech at BYU envisioning Native Americans as educated leaders. From that day forward he has dedicated his life to "lifting people."

A member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, Elder Echo Hawk was born in Cody, Wyo., on Aug. 2, 1948, to Ernest and Emma Jane Echo Hawk. While growing up in Farmington, N.M., in 1962, he and his family were taught and baptized by LDS missionaries.

Elder Larry Echo Hawk met his wife, Sister Teresa Echo Hawk, in the fourth grade; he baptized her at
Elder Larry Echo Hawk met his wife, Sister Teresa Echo Hawk, in the fourth grade; he baptized her at age 19. | Photo by Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

"I always like to say their names — Lee Pearson and Boyd Camphuysen," Elder Echo Hawk said. "I could not have accomplished the things that I've been able to do in my life without the gospel of Jesus Christ."

And he has accomplished much in his 63 years, not the least of which includes marrying his childhood sweetheart, Teresa (Terry) Pries, whom he met in the fourth grade.

"We like to joke that we didn't 'get serious' until the seventh grade," Elder Echo Hawk said. He baptized his wife when she was 19. Elder Kimball married them in the Salt Lake Temple on Dec. 20, 1968. They have raised six children together and he noted that she has stood by his side as he has served as a teacher, bishop, high councilor and stake president … and lawyer.

Since graduating from the University of Utah in 1973 with a Juris Doctorate, Elder Echo Hawk has practiced law in many different capacities, trying to help improve the lives of Native Americans.

He began his career as a staff attorney at California Indian Legal Services, but started his own law practice in Salt Lake City in 1975. This firm, which eventually expanded to include seven attorneys, dealt primarily with Indian law. In 1977, Elder Echo Hawk became one of the first Native American lawyers to serve as a tribal attorney, helping create change that would enable Indian nations and people to advance and protect their rights and improve their economic conditions.

In 1990, after four years in Idaho's House of Representatives, when he was elected as Idaho Attorney General he became the first American Indian in U.S. history to be elected as a state attorney general. In 1994, he returned to BYU to teach law at the J. Reuben Clark Law School for the next 14 years.

In 2009, he left BYU when he was appointed by President Barack Obama to be Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in the United States Department of the Interior, a position he will leave on April 27 to step into his calling as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.

As a young man, he was recruited to BYU–Provo on a full-ride football scholarship; he played in every game for four years.

Although he had been baptized at age 14 and seen great changes take place in his family as a result of the gospel's influence, Elder Echo Hawk said he had not then gained his own testimony. When at 17 he sustained a serious eye injury that threatened to take the sight of one eye, "I committed to the Lord that if I would be able to keep my eyesight, I would read the Book of Mormon," he said.

He regained use of his eye and read 10 pages every day for nearly two months.

"It was the most powerful spiritual experience I've ever had when the Holy Ghost witnessed to me that the Book of Mormon was true," Elder Echo Hawk said. "That experience has empowered me throughout my life to help me improve."

He also credits a diligent priests quorum adviser, Richard Boren — who emphasized to young Larry Echo Hawk that he had great potential and the ability to reach his goals — as a motivator for later successes.

At BYU, he earned degrees in physical education and zoology. In 1970, when he graduated, he was also honorably discharged from the United States Marine Corps following two years of service.

Elder Echo Hawk told a story about his experience at boot camp while serving in the Marine Corps:

A drill instructor had ordered all the recruits to stand at attention while he went down the line, ridiculing each loudly and vulgarly. Upon reaching recruit Echo Hawk's bunk, the drill instructor dumped all of his belongings from his duffle bag onto the bed.

"The drill instructor looked through my things and grabbed my Book of Mormon," he recalled at a BYU devotional in 2007. "I expected that he would yell at me as he had done with all the other recruits. ...

"He paused, raised his hand holding my Book of Mormon, and then, in a very quiet voice, said, 'Do you believe in this book?'

"I yelled out, 'Yes, Sergeant Instructor!' "

The drill instructor was silent for a moment, then gently returned the Book of Mormon and proceeded on with the next recruit in the same manner as he had previously done with the other recruits.

Though Elder Echo Hawk has often wondered why that drill instructor spared him that day, he knows one thing: "I am glad I was able to say without hesitation that I am a Mormon and that I know the Book of Mormon is true. That testimony is a precious gift given to me with the help of two missionaries, a priests quorum leader and a prophet of God."

Biographical information

Family: Born Aug. 2, 1948, in Cody, Wyo., to Ernest V. Echo Hawk and Emma Jane Conrad Echo Hawk; married Teresa (Terry) Pries on Dec. 20, 1968, in the Salt Lake City Utah Temple; six children: Jennifer (Jeff Hill), Paul (Stephanie Pond), Mark (Diana Dixon), Matthew, Emily (Brandon Rehrer), and Michael (to be married to Kelsey Johnson May 1, 2012); and 24 grandchildren.

Education: Graduated from Brigham Young University in 1970 with bachelor's degrees in physical education and zoology; received Juris Doctorate from the University of Utah in 1973.

Career: Staff attorney with California Indian Legal Services from 1973–1975; attorney for Echohawk, Thorne, Ross, Sloan, and Kearl from 1975–1980; Special Prosecutor for the Navajo Nation in 1985; Chief General Counsel of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes from 1977–1986; member of the Idaho House of Representatives from 1982–1986; Bannock County Prosecuting Attorney from 1986–1990; Attorney General of Idaho from 1990–1994; professor of law at the J. Reuben Clark Law School at BYU from 1994–2009; Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior from 2009 to present.

Military Service: Participated in the Platoon Leader Class training program at Quantico, Va., from 1968 until he was honorably discharged from the United States Marine Corps in 1970.

Church Service: Teacher, bishop, high councilor and stake president.

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