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June 19, 2023 Civil Rights and Social Justice

John E. Echohawk to receive ABA Thurgood Marshall Award

The American Bar Association Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice will honor Native American rights trailblazer and activist John E. Echohawk, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, with the 2023 ABA Thurgood Marshall Award.

Native American rights activist John E. Echohawk will receive the ABA Thurgood Marshall Award at the Annual Meeting in Denver.

Native American rights activist John E. Echohawk will receive the ABA Thurgood Marshall Award at the Annual Meeting in Denver.

The award will be presented at a dinner honoring his distinguished career on Aug. 5 during the ABA Annual Meeting in Denver. U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke will give the keynote address and ABA President-elect Mary L. Smith will give remarks.

The award honors U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall for his commitment, in word and action, to the cause of civil rights. It is awarded to individuals in the legal profession to recognize similar long-term contributions to the advancement of civil rights, social justice and human rights in the United States.

Echohawk, a member of the Pawnee Indian tribe, has been with the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder, Colorado, since its inception in 1970 and has served as its executive director since 1977.

The first graduate of the University of New Mexico’s special program to train Indian lawyers, Echohawk was the founding member of the American Indian Law Students Association.

Currently, he serves on the boards of the American Indian Resources Institute, the Association on American Indian Affairs, the Indigenous Language Institute, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development.

Echohawk also served as a lecturer in the Indian Studies Department at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Colorado Boulder Department of Ethnic Studies Department in the early 1970s. He earned a bachelor’s degree in government and a law degree at the University of New Mexico in 1967 and 1970 respectively and was a Reginald Heber Smith Fellow from 1970-72.

“John Echohawk is a pioneer,” said Juan Thomas, chair of the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice. “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.” 

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