Larry Echo Hawk works with presidents — first, the president of the United States; now, the president of the LDS Church.
At this week's Native American Summit in downtown Salt Lake City, Echo Hawk talked about his appointment to the two high-profile jobs and the differences between his former work as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and his new full-time post as a Mormon general authority.
Back in January 2009, he recalled, he was "living the perfect life" in Provo as a law professor at Brigham Young University. Then he got a call from President Barack Obama's office.
"It was shortly afterward," he said, "I received another telephone call and very powerful words were spoken: 'Your country is calling you into service.' "
Obama wanted Echo Hawk as BIA boss. "I had to admit that I hesitated," he said.
A Pawnee himself, Echo Hawk balked because the federal government has a long history of breaking promises to Native Americans.
"In the end, I felt like it was a chance to try and make a difference," he said. "It was difficult work, but it was the most satisfying work that I've ever done in my life."
Echo Hawk, a former Idaho attorney general and a prominent Democrat, planned to finish out Obama's first term and then return to teaching law. But after three years, another president beckoned.
In February 2012, he had an appointment with a member of the LDS Church's governing First Presidency.
"It's something that you don't apply for," he said. "As the interview occurred, the phrase that caught my attention was when he spoke these words, 'For the rest of your life you are called to serve as a general authority.' "
Even before the meeting, Echo Hawk had resolved that if LDS leaders wanted him for a full-time post, he would say yes.
But, Echo Hawk emphasized this week, "my work for native people is not over."
His church assignment for at least the next year is to serve in the Southwest — an area that includes Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Nevada — states with some of the largest Native American populations.
"I'm hoping that I will be able to continue to work to benefit the native people."
Echo Hawk is the second American Indian to be appointed an LDS general authority. The first, George P. Lee, served for 14 years before being excommunicated for "apostasy" and "conduct unbecoming a member of the church."
Echo Hawk acknowledged the prayers given on his behalf from various tribal members during his time BIA. "It is now my turn to pray for you."
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