“Larry EchoHawk: Someone’s Concerned about Me,” Ensign, Dec. 1975, 29–30
Larry J. EchoHawk, twenty-seven, a Pawnee and the first Indian admitted to the Utah Bar Association, keeps the Book of Mormon on his desk. “I learned a lot about being an Indian from it,” he says. “As a boy, growing up in Farmington, New Mexico, I was ashamed to be an Indian. My parents weren’t, but I read those books and wondered if I was like that—savage and ignorant. The teacher would read ‘Indian’ and I’d cringe.”
He was baptized with his family at the age of fourteen. “For an Indian looking for pride, the Book of Mormon was a wonderful experience,” he remembers. “It was really an uplift to me.” The pride in heritage that his parents taught him, his experience going to Brigham Young University, and especially his research into Indian law at law school completed the process.
“Only one thing I don’t understand,” he grins. “It says we’ll be a white and delightsome people someday. I like the color I am. In fact, I don’t know any Indian who wants to change.”
There are certainly things he’d like to change about the way Indians are treated, though. About 95 percent of his clients are Indians and it “makes my blood boil” to see examples of discrimination by individuals, tokenism, especially in government, and paternalism, even in the Church.
“People still react to those old stereotypes,” he comments. “Some leaders don’t have faith in the capabilities of Lamanites. Occasionally when I moved into a new ward in California, I could see some reserve on the part of the bishop to use me—until he found out I was a lawyer. Do you have to have a law degree to be real?”
He’s equally quick to point out all the signs that times are changing. Indians are winning in the courts, taking advantage of higher education programs nationwide, and filling important positions in state and federal government. His sister Lucille is Utah’s first Indian educational specialist. He serves as first counselor in the Indian ward (Fifth Ward, Salt Lake Temple View Stake), where key leadership positions are all filled by Indians. Credit, he says, goes to the former bishop, a non-Indian, who had worked at that goal for more than twelve years.
“We see change. When we expect 100 percent home teaching, they become devoted home teachers. Our sacrament meeting attendance is well over Church average—somewhere between 60 and 80 percent. I hope the stereotypes are changing too. Maybe when people hear the word ‘Indian’ now, they’ll also think of George Lee, of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
“The Lord is helping us,” he stresses. “It’s a miracle I’m a lawyer. I wasn’t a good student in high school. The Lord made opportunities for me. I went from nothing on the football team to all-star and there was a scholarship to BYU. Then law school. I don’t even remember what I told the assistant dean who was looking at my transcript of badminton classes, but I got in and I’m a good lawyer. The Lord has never let me fall, even though I’ve stumbled a lot. I know he’s concerned about me. He’s blessed me with a fantastic wife and four beautiful children. He hears every prayer. The gospel is going to be restored to the Lamanites—to my family and friends. We’re not going to be a mediocre people. We’re going to be leaders in the Church and the nation. I know it’s going to happen. I can see it beginning now.”