Idaho attorney general is living example of 'American dream'

If the clocks were turned back almost 200 years, Larry EchoHawk could be mistaken for his great-grandfather, Echo Hawk.

Echo Hawk was a Pawnee Indian who lived with his tribe in what is now Nebraska. He was named hawk, the symbol of a silent warrior, and was known for his deeds of bravery. He was also named echo because he was a very quiet man and didn't speak of his own accomplishments. Others echoed his deeds throughout the village.Now two centuries later, Larry EchoHawk, elected last November as Idaho attorney general, is also soft spoken and quiet and doesn't boast of his accomplishments.

Instead, others have recognized his quality of work and leadership capabilities. He is the first American Indian in the nation to be elected a state attorney general, becoming the first American Indian in U.S. history to be elected on a statewide basis to a state constitutional office.

A member of the Meridian 17th Ward, Meridian Idaho Stake, Brother EchoHawk, 42, won the election by 36,000 votes, garnering 56 percent of the votes. He became the first Democrat in a strong Republican state to win that office since 1970.

"I'm very excited about the opportunity to serve because I enjoy public service very much," he said. "When I first filed to run, one political analyst said, `He starts out with three strikes against him. He's a Mormon, an Indian and a Democrat.' It gave me some satisfaction in my campaign to beat the odds makers and to win and do it by a healthy margin."

During his campaign he spoke of his desire to serve in public office and to preserve the freedom and opportunities he has enjoyed in his life. He was taught at a young age that through education and hard work, the American dream could be his.

"My family has truly received the promise of America. My parents had six children and all six obtained a college education. We benefited greatly by the opportunity to receive a quality education. My parents simply taught us that what we receive, we should return something," he said.

"To me, my education is very valuable. With that education I've been able to achieve this political office and I hope to keep opportunities open for other people, particularly in being a role model for American Indian youth," said Brother EchoHawk, a graduate of BYU who received his law degree from the University of Utah.

"I feel pressure not only to do a good job and to meet the agenda I've set for myself on the issues, but also to make sure other American Indians have the same or even a better opportunity than I've had to participate in government."

Before becoming state attorney general, he was elected prosecuting attorney for Bannock County, serving from 1986-1990. Prior to that he served as tribal attorney for the Shoshone-Bannock Indian Tribe at Fort Hall, Idaho, from 1977-1986. He also served two terms in the Idaho House of Representatives from 1982-1986.

"I enjoy public service very much," he remarked. "But probably the greatest calling in my life is being a husband and father. I take great pride in the fact that we are raising six children who are good members of the Church."

He and his wife, Terry, are the parents of Jenny, 21; Paul, 20; Mark, 19; Matt, 16; Emily, 14; and Michael, 5. Paul is serving in the Jamaica Kingston Mission and Mark is serving in the Costa Rica San Jose Mission.

Although he has never been busier than now, Brother EchoHawk said he tries to maintain a balance between family, Church and work by having daily scripture study and holding regular family home evenings with his family.

He is Scouting advancement chairman in his ward and is a member of the board of trustees for LDS Social Services. He has also served as a bishop and high councilor.

"My testimony, my membership in the Church and my temple marriage are the most important possessions I have," he explained.

Brother EchoHawk grew up in Farmington, N.M., and is a convert to the Church. He was baptized at age 14 with his family. They were taught the lessons by stake missionaries after a neighbor introduced them to the Church.

"At that time my family was not active in any church, and religion was new to me. After I was baptized, there was a lot of learning that I went through before I gained a full testimony of the gospel."

Now the foundation of his testimony is the Book of Mormon, he said.

"I had a priesthood leader who took a special interest in me. He helped me set goals, especially in the area of athletics. At best, I was a mediocre athlete. As a result of these goals, I earned a position on the football team my senior year as starting quarterback."

About the same time, however, he was hit in the eye in an accident and thought he might lose his vision.

"At that time, I made a commitment to read the Book of Mormon. After the bandages came off and my vision was restored, I was able to go back to practice with the season under way and get my chance to deliver on the football field."

He was selected as the New Mexico all-star football quarterback and then received a scholarship offer from BYU to play football.

"I gained a testimony after accepting the challenge to read the Book of Mormon," he reflected. "I read 10 pages every night during my senior year [in high schoolT until I read the book. The whole experience not only gave me a testimony, but also taught me the value of hard work, the power of prayer, and gave me a lot of confidence in what I could achieve if I applied myself."

During his teen years, he attended a special Indian youth conference in Kirkland, N.M., where he met President Spencer W. Kimball.

"That had an enormous impact on my development," he remembered. "President Kimball spoke of the promises Mormon made to the Indian people, and shared his vision for the Lamanites as they believe in themselves, become active members of the Church and become professionals.

"I'm very proud of my Indian heritage," he continued. "I think that my Indian identity was strengthened by reading the Book of Mormon. In the early years of my life, there were times when I questioned who I was as a person and what my Indian identity meant. But after I was baptized and read the Book of Mormon, that all changed. I did not feel inferior but very proud of my heritage."

While at BYU, he was selected to the Western Athletic Conference All-Academic football team in 1969. As a free safety, he was a starter during his junior and senior years, playing at BYU from 1966-1970.

"I learned that if you want to achieve something, there is a price you have to pay in terms of applying yourself and doing the work necessary," he said about his football days at BYU. "Football teaches the limits you have individually and makes you reach and do things that perhaps you never thought you could do. It helped me overcome fears and stick with goals when things become hard.

"My family has truly realized the American dream," he concluded. "This country has provided us with great blessings." - Sheridan R. Sheffield

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