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Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Support Larry EchoHawk for Assistant Secretary

SHOSHONE-BANNOCK TRIBE: Statement in Support of Larry EchoHawk as Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs

January 22, 2009

To Tribal Leaders:

We were disappointed and surprised to read a recent statement by Scott Crowell criticizing Larry EchoHawk as a possible choice for the next Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs. Mr. Crowell formerly represented the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes on gaming matters but no longer represents the Tribes, and he does not speak for the Tribes. His statement contains a number of factual and legal misstatements that need to be corrected. To be clear, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes fully support Larry EchoHawk and have full confidence in his strong commitment to Tribal sovereignty and Indian interests, including economic development through gaming enterprises.

Larry began representing the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in 1977 and served for nearly nine years as the Tribes’ chief general legal counsel. At that time, he was one of the first ever Native American lawyers entrusted with the responsibility as the primary attorney for a large Indian tribe. He provided diligent and faithful service during these years. During his time as Tribal Attorney, he also served two terms in the Idaho legislature and worked hand-in-hand with Tribal leaders in Idaho to advance tribal interests. It was during his time in the legislature that positive laws respecting tribal sovereignty were passed for the first time in Idaho history, and Larry played a significant role in their passage. These laws include the State-Tribal Relations Act, the Tribal tobacco sales tax exemption, the Indian Antiquities and Burial Site Protection Act, and the amendment to the State Joint Powers Act to authorize state agencies to enter into agreements with Tribal governments, to name a few. Much of this was brought about due to Larry’s efforts to help create a State Indian Affairs Committee.

He ended his position as the Tribes’ general legal counsel in 1986 on good terms with the Tribes to become the prosecuting attorney for Bannock County, Idaho’s fourth largest county that borders the Fort Hall Reservation. While he served as prosecutor, he demonstrated a continual respect for tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction by deferring cases to the Tribes that could have been prosecuted under Public 280. In 1990 he was elected as Idaho’s Attorney General, and became the first Native American in United States history to be elected to a state-wide constitutional political office. As Attorney General, he supported legislation and efforts to protect native religious freedoms, salmon treaty fishing rights, and other legal matters impacting tribal sovereignty. While Attorney General, Larry also lead efforts to improve state-tribal relations through the Conference of Western Attorneys General.

In response to Mr. Crowell’s statement on Larry EchoHawk’s position relating to Indian gaming, the record should be clear that Larry EchoHawk supports the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and recognizes that it is the responsibility of the Assistant Secretary to faithfully execute the law. The EchoHawk law firm, which includes Larry’s sons Paul EchoHawk and Mark EchoHawk, has provided nearly ten years of legal services to the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, and continue to provide excellent legal services. They have worked on a number of important issues for the Tribes, including gaming matters. Specifically, Mark EchoHawk recently served for six months as the Interim Executive Director for the Fort Hall Casino. We are confident that Larry’s possible service as Assistant Secretary would be beneficial to Tribal interests, including the continued development of Indian gaming enterprises.

Mr. Crowell’s statement misstates the law and facts related to Larry EchoHawk’s role in the 1992 Idaho constitutional amendment. First, Crowell wrongly stated that Larry called the special legislative session. In fact, only the Governor has the authority to call a special legislative session in Idaho. Idaho Const. Art. IV, Sec. 9. The determination to call a special session in 1992 was made by the governor alone. Crowell’s statement also is misleading in that it suggests that Larry personally supported restricting Indian gaming or had a policy-making role in the matter. Both of these suggestions are false and misleading. The fact is that the state attorney general is the chief legal officer for the state and is charged with specific legal duties as directed by the Idaho law. See Idaho Code 67-1401. The law is clear that the state attorney general has the primary obligation to enforce state laws and cannot act as a litigant or exercise any broader power than that granted by the constitution and legislature. The attorney general is required to take an oath that they will “support the Constitution of the United States, and Constitution of the State of Idaho, and that [they] will faithfully discharge the duties of attorney general to the best of [their] ability.” This includes an obligation to perform all legal services for the state and to represent the state in all tribunals and provide unbiased legal advice to the legislature and governor when requested. The attorney general is not a lawmaker or a policy maker. Although Larry EchoHawk clearly has a long and proven track record of advancing tribal sovereignty, his legal and ethical duty as Idaho’s attorney general was to provide legal advice to the governor and legislature. He did this according to his oath of office, and he did not advocate against Indian gaming specifically at any time. Contrary to Mr. Crowell’s statement, Larry EchoHawk’s law firm has provided years of exceptional legal services to the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, including work to further advance the Tribes’ profitable gaming interests. It is simply unfair and disingenuous to suggest that performing his duty as attorney general shows a lack of commitment to Indian interests and tribal sovereignty in the face of Larry’s long and distinguished career working for Indian people.

In sum, we are proud to hear of Larry EchoHawk’s possible appointment as the next Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs. We are confident that he will do an outstanding job in continuing his efforts to advance Tribal sovereignty and economic self-sufficiency. We urge Tribal leaders to join us in supporting Larry for this important position for Indian Country.


Alonzo Coby, Chairman

Fort Hall Business Council

Shoshone-Bannock Tribes


Senator Inouye support for Larry Echohawk as Assistant Secretary





JANUARY 24, 2009


         It has been awhile since I have had the honor of spending some time with my dear friends from Indian country, so I would like to begin today by assuring you that even though I no longer serve in a leadership capacity on the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, you have never been far from my mind, and you are forever in my heart.

         I may have assumed new responsibilities in the Senate – and while it is true that my service as Chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Science, Commerce and Transportation had consumed a great deal of my time – my dedication to your cause has never waned.

         And now, as the 111th session of the Congress gets underway, I have  moved into an arena – as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee – that promises to be even more demanding of my time.

         Nonetheless, in some ways, perhaps I can make a greater contribution to your work.

         In these challenging times, there may not be many of us left who remember similar days of economic hardship, wars, and the loss of homes and jobs that, like those times of old,  loom on our horizon today.

         Few perhaps remember the Great Depression, the bread lines, the broken backs of our great financial institutions – few perhaps except for the generations of America’s Native people for whom these realities have changed but little.  

         When our new President speaks of unemployment rates that may reach 10 percent nationwide before America is able to turn the corner on this economic crisis, he does not speak of Indian reservation communities where joblessness had plagued Native communities for generations, and unemployment of 50 percent or more is sadly not uncommon.

         What our new President does speak of – what he has seen and clearly understands – is that you are a distinct  people, distinguished from other Americans by the sovereignty of your governments and a history that pre-dates the founding of this country.

         What he knows is that our American democracy is not only a reflection of the sophisticated forms of  Native governments that honored and practiced the rule of law long before the first immigrants ever set their feet on our shores, but that the Framers of our Constitution understood that your sovereignty was the fundamental basis upon which those who came here would base their relationships with your ancestors, and the generations who succeeded them.

         I know, because I have been fortunate enough to travel to your home lands over the years, and because I have had the privilege of spending many hours with you – that this nation has not honored its treaties with you, the promises it made to your forefathers, nor the commitments for which you gave up your vast holdings of lands and natural resources.

         So in my mind, when we speak of economic recovery acts and economic stimulus packages, our focus should be, first and foremost, on those who have been going without and making personal sacrifices  far longer than anyone else in the United States – the First Americans.

         And thus, I call upon you today to help me help you.

         Provide me with the descriptions of the initiatives that you believe will bring more jobs and economic opportunities to your communities, that will enhance your access to health care, that will afford your children not an education measured by test scores, but an education based on the values that will enable your children to excel not only in school but in their life paths – whatever they may choose to become.

         When we speak of “shovel-ready” projects in Washington, I want to know what kind of infrastructure is needed in your communities, what schools and hospitals and clinics and housing need to be built.

         Those of us who have worked with you for so many years, know that there are overwhelming backlogs of projects that are simply vital to your fundamental well-being and your future as a people.  

         So these lists, this information, ought not to be hard to put together.  

         But as you know, our new President has charged the Congress with enacting economic recovery legislation within the next several weeks, and so we need your specific information and documentation as soon as possible.

         And armed with this information, I pledge to you that I will do my very best to assure that we build upon the good start that the House of Representatives has made in including roughly $2 billion of “spade-ready” projects in Indian country, in its economic recovery legislation.

         Over the past several months, even before President Obama took the oath of office, we have seen extraordinary efforts to reach out to Indian country – to seek out your priorities and understand your concerns.

         And for the first time that I can ever recall, the President-elect and now President Obama spoke of Native Americans in his most important addresses to the nation.

         A few days ago, we learned that a distinguished citizen of the American Indian community has been selected and has agreed to serve as the next Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior.

         He brings a long and honorable record of public service and academic excellence to his new position – a man who has represented tribal governments, has served as the Attorney General of Idaho and currently enjoys the well-deserved respect of his colleagues – having served as a professor at Brigham Young University for the past 15 years.

         I speak of course of Larry Echohawk.

         I have worked with Larry Echohawk, and of course, I have had the privilege and honor of working with his older brother, John Echohawk, the Director of the Native American Rights Fund, for the past 25 years.

         But I am also aware that there have been grumblings over the past few days, and that there are some who have suggested that the positions that Larry Echohawk took in his former capacity as Attorney General of Idaho render him unfit for service as Assistant Secretary.

         To those who have expressed these doubts, I would suggest that you might consider the personal qualities that a man or woman brings to public service, rather than placing too much emphasis on what he or she has had to do or say in their former official capacities.

         I would ask you, for instance, to use me as an example.  All of you know, for I have said it many times, that I am adamantly opposed to gaming.

         I have held that position throughout my public life, and the citizens of Hawaii know that I will never support gaming in Hawaii.

         But when it comes to Indian country, my first and most fundamental belief is my belief in the significance of your sovereignty, and your rights as governments to exercise that sovereignty.

         So back in the late 80’s, when we were confronted with the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Cabazon case, I knew that we would have to forge legislation to strike a balance between competing interests, and I came to the reckoning that I would have to set aside my personal convictions in deference to your sovereignty, and your right to choose gaming as a means of developing the economies of your communities.

         I hope that you have found me to be a tireless advocate for your cause in that respect, and that you judge me not on my official positions as the senior Senator of Hawaii, but on the record of my service to Indian country.

         The Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs is your representative in the United States government – and he can only be as effective in that representations as you take the time to make him aware of your challenges, your goals, and the obstacles that lie in your paths to achieving those goals.

         So I would ask you to take the time to get to know Larry Echohawk, and maybe begin with a basic assumption that he would not have agreed to serve in this capacity if he were not commitment to bringing about much needed change for Native communities that have been disenfranchised for generations.

         I remember when Larry Echohawk first joined the ranks of the Attorneys General of the various States, and took his seat at the table of the Conference of Western Attorneys General.

         Later, some of these Attorneys General shared with me, that they  realized that they had to start being more sensitive to what they would say about Indian people – they had to begin to separate stereotype from reality – and they had to begin to look at their relationships with tribal governments through the eyes of someone who walked in both paths – the path of a Native person and the path of the chief legal officer of a State.

         A year later, we began to witness something we might not have anticipated – a willingness, a real commitment, to engage in an ongoing dialogue with tribal leaders – a dialogue based upon mutual respect rather than pre-conceived notions or even biases.

         And a new era slowly began to take shape – all because Larry Echohawk came to be a member of the group that was welcomed to their table.

         In the days and years ahead, as tribal leaders, you too will be called to sit at tables to which you may never have been invited before – and as your grandfathers did, you may have to at first, steel yourselves from reacting to the insensitivities that are borne out of ignorance.

         In this new Administration, I sense that you will be welcomed to the tables of government as equal partners in addressing the challenges of our times – and like Larry Echohawk, by virtue of your presence, and your thoughtfulness, and your intelligent approaches to problems, you will begin to re-shape the way in which Americans view Native people and their sovereign governments.

         I hope that throughout this process, you will also usher in a new era in which the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs isn’t the person in the official position that you love to hate, but that you will decide that the best course of action for all of Indian country, is to help that person become the best advocate for your cause that he can possibly be.

         Much as you have done for me.

         Those who are coming into public service for the first time in this new Administration will be given the statistics – the high rates of suicide, raging epidemics of drug use and gang violence, high unemployment, lower than average academic achievement, pervasive poverty – and they will ask why.

         It will be your charge to educate them as to the origins of these problems, but more importantly, it will be your mission to help them understand how these problems can best be resolved.

         Some of this will be done behind closed doors – other times the discussions will be had in public venues – but wherever these important exchanges of ideas take place – all eyes will be on you.

         So as we join our new President and his team in shaping a future that moves our country in a new direction, built on a foundation of new relationships, let us come together with a positive attitude, with mutual respect for our similarities as well as our differences, and with a renewed commitment to tribal sovereignty.

         For as I have said so many times before, it is your sovereignty that is the fundamental basis of all your relationships with governments – both  foreign and domestic.  It is your sovereignty that you must always protect, and it is your sovereignty that is the lesson that must be taught every day to every man, woman and child in Indian country and across the United States.

         They say that education is a life-long journey.  I stand ready to join hands with you, the First Americans,  as we undertake this new and exciting  journey together.