Pioneer Native American rights lawyer 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.

The award will be presented at a dinner celebration honoring his distinguished career during the ABA Annual Meeting in Denver on Saturday, Aug. 5, at 7:30 p.m. MDT at the Hyatt Regency Denver. U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke and ABA President-elect Mary L. Smith will give remarks.

“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.”

The award honors U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who epitomized individual commitment, in word and action, to the cause of civil rights in this country. The award recognizes similar long-term contributions by other members of the legal profession to the advancement of civil rights, social justice and human rights in the United States.

For more than 50 years, 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.

Echohawk was the first graduate of the University of New Mexico’s special program to train Indian lawyers. While in law school there, Echohawk was a founding member of the American Indian Law Students Association.

Recognized as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America by the National Law Journal, Echohawk has received a number of service awards and other recognition for his leadership in the field of Indian law. In 2006, the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice named him a Human Rights Hero in an article published by Human Rights Magazine.

Currently, Echohawk 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.

Echohawk also served as a lecturer in the Indian Studies Department at the University of California at Berkely and the University of Colorado’s Ethnic Studies Department in the early 1970s. He earned a B.A. in government and J.D. at the University of New Mexico in 1967 and 1970 respectively and was a Reginald Heber Smith Fellow from 1970-1972.

On the announcement of the award, Thomas added, “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.”