During Gathering of the Tribes conference, Elder Echo Hawk urges Native American attendees to actively participate in the gathering of Israel

Elder Larry J. Echo Hawk tells attendees from 61 tribes across North, Central and South America and the Pacific, ‘because of your heritage, it is your work, it is your time, your responsibility’

MESA, Arizona — Elder Larry J. Echo Hawk, emeritus General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke at the opening session of the Gathering of Tribes conference on Saturday, March 23, in Mesa, Arizona — urging participants to make reading the Book of Mormon the most important part of their day and to actively participate in the gathering of Israel.

“This is the gathering, and we need to do more,” he told the attendees. “We have a personal responsibility to prepare for the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It’s not just you, we have a responsibility as a group of the remnant of the House of Israel to do our part. ...

“This sacred book is another testament of Jesus Christ,” he said. “You hear the voice of ancient prophets in the Book of Mormon. They are speaking and praying about the very days we live in now. Prophets can see into the future, and they saw the very times we are living in. They prayed that the gathering would take place now. This is our work, especially speaking of the Indigenous people, because of your heritage, it is your work, it is your time, your responsibility — to be the best you can be and to teach your children, your posterity, to have them have the opportunity to embed a knowledge and testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ and the words of the Book of Mormon in their lives. That is our responsibility, and to share that with others.”

More than 650 people registered for at least some portion of the conference, which began Friday, March 22. Attendees of all ages represented 61 tribes from across North, Central and South America and the Pacific Islands.

Many participants attended the Mesa Arizona Temple on Friday and then walked around the temple for photos in regalia and traditional clothing later in the day. The group returned to the nearby Church-owned Interstake Center, where they enjoyed food and watched a variety of traditional dances.

The event was supported by local Church leaders and volunteers, under direction from the North America Southwest Area presidency.

Bear Heal Singers from Gila River, Arizona, perform for an Intertribal Native American Dance Circle where all were invited to join in the dancing during the Gathering of Tribes conference in Mesa, Arizona, on March 23, 2024. | Scott P. Adair

This was the second such gathering in Mesa — the first was held one year ago — and nearly two-thirds noted at registration that this was the first gathering they had attended. The first Gathering of the Tribes was held in Calgary, Alberta, in September 2022.

Organizer Cindy Quinney, of Onion Lake Cree Nation, Alberta, said at that time the purpose of gathering was “to unite and for all of us to share our stories together will help strengthen us as a people. There are many who need to know their identity and who they are, … how important they are to the Creator and, as an individual, to know the strength and spiritual power that they have within themselves.”

Six months later, a larger gathering was held in Mesa, Arizona, and another gathering was held in Cardston, Canada, that fall. Organizers say they will continue to hold and expand the gatherings.

Gabby Esquerra, 17, attended with her mother, Victoria Enas, from Parker, Arizona, and both are a part of the Colorado River Indian Tribes. Gabby met other attendees Friday evening as she walked around the temple dressed in a traditional Mohave dress, made by her grandmother.

“I’m excited to see natives from all over,” Gabby said. “To me, we’re all the same people because the Book of Mormon brings us together as a family.”

World-class hoop dancer Michael Goedel performs Friday night during the Gathering of Tribes conference in Mesa, Arizona, on March 23, 2024. | Scott P. Adair

Elder Echo Hawk, a member of the Pawnee Nation, addressed the gathering the following morning. He was sustained as a General Authority Seventy in 2012 and received emeritus status in 2018.

He told a chapel full of attendees that his life changed when he read the Book of Mormon as a teenager.His family joined the Church when he was 14, but he said at that time he wasn’t converted, just a rebellious boy who cared only about sports.

After a Young Men leader helped him learn how to work out and build his body to better play football, he finally achieved a starting position at his high school in Farmington, New Mexico.

Shortly after finding out the coach intended to play him as starting quarterback, he sustained an eye injury that nearly derailed his dreams. He prayed to not lose his sight and promised he would read the Book of Mormon. He regained his sight and kept his promise, finishing in less than two months and thus experiencing the words of ancient prophets testifying of Christ and a powerful spiritual impression that would shape the rest of his life.

He recalls kneeling to ask if the book were true.

“I can hardly describe to you what happened,” he said. “I knew with certainty that what I had read was the words of prophets, and a large part of that message of the Book of Mormon is a book written to the Lamanites. … I knew the Book of Mormon was true, and it changed my life.”

He would go on to read the book once or twice a year for the rest of his life.

Elder Larry Echo Hawk, an emeritus General Authority, shares his conversion story and testimony of the Book of Mormon during the Gathering of Tribes conference in Mesa, Arizona, on March 23, 2024. | Scott P. Adair

He also went on to obtain an education and to serve Native Americans through his practice of law and public service. Elder Echo Hawk was elected attorney general of Idaho in 1990, the first American Indian in U.S. history elected as a state attorney general. He served two consecutive terms in the Idaho House of Representatives and subsequently worked as a law professor at the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University. At the time of his call to the Seventy, he was serving as assistant secretary for Indian Affairs for the U.S. Department of the Interior.

He has served in numerous Church callings, including stake president, bishop, Gospel Doctrine instructor and second counselor in the Philippines Area presidency.

Elder Echo Hawk told the gathering he wanted to share his high school story because “adversity happens, bad things happen in life. You’re not sent here to have a perfect life,” he said. “You are sent here to be tried and tested. But when you face adversity, if you entrust yourselves in the hands of the Lord, He will help you get through that adversity. And when you get through, you’ll be stronger and better prepared for what our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, have in store for you.”

He reiterated his testimony of the Book of Mormon and its powerful effect on a person’s life.

“The most important thing that I will do in any day is to read the Book of Mormon, and I will never miss, and it will bless your life. These are the voices of your ancestors in lineage coming to you; as you read the words of the Book of Mormon, they find you. I know the Savior Jesus Christ loves you. He has plans for you. Through His sacred Atonement, there is nothing that should hold us back from the adversities of life or the poor decisions we may have made. He reaches out to us.”

Shawn Allison, a Navajo who lives in Mesa with his wife, Eileen, said they were both interested to hear of Elder Echo Hawk’s life story and considered his counsel very inspiring.

“I think he connected because of his background, and reminders that we have to do our part — to share the gospel with family and friends, and to reconnect those who are inactive and welcome them back,” said Eileen Allison. “We’re are very thankful to hear him speak.”

Also speaking at the opening of the gathering were representative of FamilySearch, announcing that a new oral history/family history project aims to work closely with North American tribal communities to document oral histories, similar to what’s been done recently in Africa. They conducted initial interviews with elders from Navajo and San Carlos Apache communities.

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