John E. Echohawk (Pawnee), the longtime Executive Director of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), was recently chosen by the CRSJ Selection Committee, chaired by Past Section Chair, C. Elisia Frazier. Juan Thomas, 2022-23 Section Chair, called Mr. Echohawk “a pioneer.” He continued:
“The Indian tribe of Pawnee should be proud of their native son, John, because wherever he has been he has stood tall as the best example of a what Charles Hamilton Houston calls a “social engineer.” From founding the Native American Law Students Association and then being the first Native American graduate of the University of New Mexico Law School in 1970; then co-founding the Native American Rights Fund that same year, John has been a beacon of light for the cause of advancing civil rights for Native Americans in the United States. For over 50 years, John fought, advocated, and litigated for full equity, inclusion, and self-determination for our Native American brothers and sisters. You cannot call the roll of the 20th century civil rights icons akin to Thurgood Marshall, John Lewis, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sherrilyn Ifill without saying the name: John Echohawk. Despite the obstacles of systemic racism, efforts to eliminate tribal territories, and the marginalization of the indigenous people of America, our nation owes a significant amount of gratitude to John Echohawk for his work, his sacrifice, and his commitment to never giving up.”
Mr. Echohawk was the first graduate of the University of New Mexico’s special program to train Indian lawyers, and was a founding member of the American Indian Law Students Association while in law school. John has been with NARF since its inception in 1970, having served continuously as Executive Director since 1977.
He has been recognized as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America by the National Law Journal and has received numerous service awards and other recognition for his leadership in the Indian law field.
He serves on the Boards of the American Indian Resources Institute, the Association on American Indian Affairs, the Indigenous Language Institute, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. B.A., University of New Mexico (1967); J.D., University of New Mexico (1970); Reginald Heber Smith Fellow (1970-72); Native American Rights Fund (August 1970 to present); admitted to practice law in Colorado.
Mr. Echohawk has long been a hero of the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice. Indeed, in 2006, the Section published a piece naming him as our Human Rights Hero in our Human Rights Magazine. He received the award on Saturday, August 5, 2023, during a dinner celebration at the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting.