Larry EchoHawk, the great-grandson of a Pawnee Indian scout for the U.S. Army and Idaho's attorney general-elect, said he is the first Native American elected to a statewide constitutional office.
"My family is the realization of the American dream," said EchoHawk, who will be sworn in next month.
EchoHawk was elected state representative in 1982, becoming the second Native American in the Idaho House. Since 1986, he has been a county prosecuting attorney. He won election as attorney general Nov. 6 by 56 to 44 percent following a negative campaign with racial overtones that were sometimes subtle, sometimes not.
A letter written by a supporter of EchoHawk's Republican opponent, Patrick Kole, and distributed to the news media, said in part: "We were introduced to Idaho's campaign for attorney general at an Indian pow-wow we attended in Denver last month. . . . They passed a blanket (really one brave on each corner) to collect wampum to support his candidacy. They did not get any of ours."
Kole, a former state deputy attorney general, disclaimed the letter, but EchoHawk remains convinced that Kole's campaign wanted to play on anti-Indian sentiment "in the same way" Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) tried to make race an issue in his campaign against Democrat Harvey Gantt, who is black.
"He was waving a red flag to highlight my Native American heritage," EchoHawk said in an interview. "He tried to deliver the message that I would show favorable treatment to the 10,000 Native Americans in the state."
EchoHawk, a reserved, soft-spoken man, explained that his family name was first given to his great-grandfather, the Pawnee scout. During the 1870s, his great-grandfather lived in what was Nebraska. Among the Pawnees, the hawk was the symbol of a silent warrior. "He was a brave and quiet man" who did not boast of his exploits for the Army, said his great-grandson. But the villagers knew and spread his reputation. "The village echoed his deeds."