"I would like to talk to you about faith and about my journey in life, calling upon that faith to help me achieve the things that I guess qualify me for this honor that has come to me this week."
Elder Larry Echo Hawk was the 2022 College of Life Sciences Alumni Achievement Award Recipient and shared the following address on faith in Jesus Christ with the college community.
I want to begin by making some comments about my heritage and my name. Echo Hawk is the name given to my great-grandfather, a Pawnee Indian born in what we now call Nebraska. He was born in 1855 and did not speak English. The earliest contact by non-Indians with the Pawnee people estimated that they numbered at least twelve thousand—maybe as high as twenty thousand.
But in 1874, when my great-grandfather was nineteen years old, he, along with his fellow remaining tribal members, were forcibly removed by the United States government from their homelands and marched several hundred miles southward into the Oklahoma-Indian territory, where they were placed on a small reserve. It’s a painful history to recount. When they arrived there were not twelve thousand, not even one thousand Pawnee people remaining, but less than seven hundred. I consider my great-grandfather at the age of nineteen to be a survivor, but that pain was not confined to just one generation.
“A Book About Your People”
In my generation, I remember that we did not sit around the dinner table talking about where we would go to college because my family had never been blessed by university education. I was in the first generation in the Echo Hawk family to be blessed by higher education, and we have received the very best that this country has to offer. This would not have been possible were it not for a person by the name of Lee Pearson.
One day my father was standing in line at a post office, and a few places behind him was Lee Pearson, a stake missionary. Lee Pearson got out of line, walked up to my father, and said, “Mr. Echo Hawk, I’ve got a book about your people that I would like to talk to you about.” My father responded, “There isn’t any book about my people.” My father was, of course, thinking about the Pawnee people. Well, Lee Pearson wasn’t talking about that kind of book. He was talking about the Book of Mormon.
I was in the first generation in the Echo Hawk family to be blessed by higher education, and we have received the very best that this country has to offer.
A few days later my father came to Lee Pearson’s home. Lee handed an original copy of the Book of Mormon to my father, who began to tremble to the extent that he thought something unusual was going on, so he handed the book back. But Lee opened to the Book of Mormon title page that says, “This is a book about Lamanites who are a remnant of the house of Israel.” And he said to my father, “These are your people.”
Lee let my father borrow his Book of Mormon. My father went home and began to read and could hardly put the book down. After less than a week, he returned to Lee Pearson’s home and said, “I want to know more. Can you come to my home and teach my family?”
Lee and his companion, Boyd Camphuyzen, taught us, and we were baptized.
True Conversion: Blindness and the Book of Mormon
In talking to you about faith and my life journey, I want to jump ahead to when I was assigned to my first stake conference where I’d preside as a General Authority. As I concluded the meeting, I saw a man walking up the aisle. He was my bishop when my family was taught and baptized. It was a joyous reunion because he had been influential in my life.
With some emotion, Bishop Matthews said, “Remember when your family was taught and baptized? As your bishop, I feared that we would lose you.” I was in the priests quorum every Sunday, but I was rebellious. And Bishop Matthews said, “I called this man named Richard Boren, and I gave him a charge—to minister to Larry Echo Hawk and try to bring about true conversion.”
Richard Boren took his charge from the bishop very seriously. After he realized that he wasn’t reaching me in the priests quorum, he did something unusual. He knew that I loved sports. I was hoping to be a football player in my senior year. He said to me, “I’m going to help you reach your goal if you would like to be a football player.”
He had me sign up to do weight training. I did it very diligently, and over the process of nearly a year I changed physically. I gained a lot of muscle, gained weight. You wouldn’t think it was very large because I got up to about 160 pounds, and that’s not very big for a football player, but as I began my senior year, I was a different person—still not being connected with the gospel, but anxious to try to make a starting position.
When I earned that starting position on the football team, I was hit directly in the eye by a football. It was a very serious injury, and I was sent home with bandages on my eyes. I was in bed for about a week, wondering if I would go blind in that eye.
But Richard Boren had challenged his priests quorum to read the Book of Mormon. And in those quiet moments in my bedroom alone with bandages on my eyes, I slipped out of bed and said a prayer. I said, “Heavenly Father, if you’re there, I need help. Please don’t let me lose sight in my eye.” And then I made a promise: “If you will save my vision in that eye, I promise you that I will read the Book of Mormon as my priests quorum advisor has challenged me to do.”
When the bandages came off, I couldn’t see at first, but eventually the vision came back. I made a very specific promise to the Lord, and that was that I would read at least ten pages a day in the Book of Mormon, it would be the most important thing I would do in any day, and I would never miss. After finishing reading in less than two months, I got on my knees and prayed. My life changed because I had a very powerful witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. And I realized what Lee Pearson was talking about when he said, “This is a book about your people.” That experience changed my life.
Miraculously, I got a football scholarship after playing only a partial season in my senior year. With that football scholarship I was attending BYU and I began to cement my faith in the foundation of Jesus Christ.
The Will to Succeed Begins with the Will to Prepare
When I arrived at BYU, I had been recruited by someone that you might find familiar—LaVell Edwards. He was my coach for all four years, and what a powerful mentor he was. I remember one of the lessons he taught:
“The most important thing to success is not the will to win. The most important thing to success, in whatever you do, is the will to prepare.”
The most important thing to success is not the will to win. The most important thing to success, in whatever you do, is the will to prepare.
In other words, he said, “Don’t wait for Saturday just when you’re suiting up for the game to get this will to win. If you want to be a champion and you want to be a winner, you start months ahead and you do everything you can to prepare yourself for success.”
What great advice that was not only for football but for the life I’ve had since then! You have to prepare yourself to be in a position of succeeding in whatever you choose to do.
The very best day of my life occurred on December 20, 1968. Guess what? It wasn’t football. That day I was in the Salt Lake Temple to be married and sealed to my sweetheart that I’d met in the fourth grade. Our priority was to start our married life together in the Lord’s house. Elder Spencer W. Kimball was officiating that day, and he gave us some counsel I thought I’d share with you.
He said to us, “As you leave the temple today and you start your life together, you’re going to have a lot of decisions that you face in life, and they will determine your destiny.” He gave us examples, like whether we would be full-tithe payers, what we would do on the Sabbath day, what we would do when a bishop or a stake president called us in and asked us to serve. What would we do?
Elder Kimball said, “If you go through life and you make those decisions one at a time, you’re in for tens of thousands of critical decisions. That’s the hard way. The easier way is, today when you kneel at the altar of the temple, to make one decision about who you really are, who you are as a couple, and how you’re going to live your life in all circumstances. What will be the strength of your faith in Jesus Christ? And if you make that one decision,” he said, “your life is going to be much easier as you go forward.”
Setting the Course for a Life of Service
One other pivotal point of faith in my journey was when I graduated from BYU. I was a physical education and zoology major, and I had a job lined up in Blanding, Utah. I was going to be a football coach and a teacher, which would’ve been a good life. And then one day, my older brother, John Echo Hawk, was graduating from law school at the University of New Mexico. He pulled me aside and he said, “You ought to go to law school.”
I asked, “Why?” And these are the words that helped to set my course in life. He said, “Because it will give you the power to change the lives of other people—to change the world, really.”
Because it will give you the power to change the lives of other people—to change the world, really.
That conversation became important to me because I established in my mind that I was going to have a life of service to other people. My credo became to return something for what I’ve been given.
I went from the University of Utah College of Law onto Stanford University for graduate business school. There, I worked in the lowest paying job in the legal profession as an Indian legal services lawyer in the Bay Area to help impoverished Native Americans in Northern California get justice in their lives. Then I went on to Salt Lake City to start a Native American law practice, hiring young Native American lawyers to work with me. I finally realized a dream by becoming the attorney for the largest Indian tribe in the state of Idaho, the Shoshone-Bannock, located on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation between Pocatello and Blackfoot, for nine years. Following that experience, I served for twelve years in elected office in Idaho, which included being elected as attorney general for the state and the opportunity to represent one of the fifty states of the union in the United States Supreme Court. It was just one thing after another occurring in my life.
All along that pathway, church service was always a priority in our life. As we served faithfully, the Lord showered blessings upon us and gave us new opportunities.
“Your Country is Calling You into Service”
The pinnacle of my professional service as a lawyer came in 2009 when I was sitting in my office in the J. Reuben Clark Law School. The phone rang and the person on the other end of the line said, “This is the presidential transition team. We want to talk to you in Washington, DC.” I knew what it was about. There was a new president of the United States, and they needed to form the executive branch of the United States government. I said, “There’s no way that I’m leaving Provo, Utah. I’ve got the perfect life.” And then they said—smart people—they said, “Would you give the courtesy to the next president of the United States for a one-hour interview?”
Well, now that you put it that way!
So, I flew back to Washington, DC, and had a one-hour meeting peppered with a lot of questions—no jobs mentioned. I went back to my hotel. When the phone rang, the person on the line said some very powerful words: “Your country is calling you into service.”
It was very emotional when I heard those words. I hadn’t felt that way since I had volunteered for service in the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.
They continued, “The President would like to nominate you to serve as the assistant secretary in the United States Department of the Interior, which would give you authority over all Indian affairs for the United States.”
I flew back to Utah, went home, walked into my library, and pulled a book off the shelf called Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Every chapter is devoted to one Indian tribe that had military campaigns launched against them to deprive them of their lands. I sat down and I read that book because I knew if I said yes, I would become the face of the United States for Indian people.
Well, I said yes and committed to four years of service. I went from one teaching assistant to ten thousand employees and a $2.6 billion dollar budget as the President’s representative for 565 tribal governments.
The Best of All Experiences: Serving Jesus Christ
I was ready to start my last year of service when I got a call from the Office of the First Presidency. A few days later, my wife and I were sitting in front of President Henry B. Eyring, and he said, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, for the rest of your life, you are called to serve as a General Authority in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to give service in the First Quorum of the Seventy.” And that led to the best of all experiences that we’ve had—to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Seventy are called to preach the gospel in all the world as special witnesses. I witness and testify that I know Jesus Christ. I know that He is the Only Begotten Son of the Father. And He was sent here with a very special mission—to teach us, to declare His word among His people that they may have everlasting life. I witness and testify that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored upon the face of the earth, that Jesus Christ stands at the head of the Church that bears His name. This is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And I say that in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.