Senate confirms former Idaho AG for Indian Affairs

WASHINGTON The Senate this week confirmed Larry EchoHawk, a law professor at Brigham Young University and a member of the Pawnee tribe, as Assistant Interior Secretary for Indian Affairs. President Barack Obama nominated EchoHawk for the post last month.

EchoHawk, 60, was elected Idaho attorney general in 1990 -- the first American Indian ever elected as a state attorney general. He had served as a county prosecutor and two terms in the Idaho House of Representatives before that. EchoHawk was the Democratic nominee for Idaho governor in 1994, losing to Republican Phil Batt by less than 35,000 votes.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said EchoHawk has the leadership abilities, legal expertise and experience to help carry out Obama's commitment to build stronger Indian economies and safer Indian communities.

"Together we will work cooperatively with the federally recognized tribes to empower American Indian and Alaska Native people, restore the integrity of the government-to-government relationship and fulfill the United States' trust responsibilities," Salazar said.

The embattled Indian Affairs agency has been without a leader for some time. The most recent head, Carl Artman, took the post in March 2007 after it had been vacant for two years. He resigned a year later.

The agency, which manages 66 million acres of land and oversees Indian schools and other programs, has been embroiled in a lawsuit for 12 years over Indian trust land. The long-running suit claims the Indians were swindled out of billions of dollars in oil, gas, grazing, timber and other royalties overseen by the Interior Department since 1887.

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