Nothing very surprising about this, but it’s still noteworthy that Larry EchoHawk, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, has called for the artifacts seized in the recent pothunting investigations to be returned to the affected tribes. He acknowledges that the repatriation process is difficult and cumbersome, but still maintains that the tribes should get first priority when the government gets to the point of figuring out what to do with the huge amount of stuff involved.
This is of course what the head of the BIA would be expected to say in a situation like this, but there’s some added interest here on account of EchoHawk’s background. While he’s Pawnee, rather than being a member of one of the southwestern tribes, he’s also Mormon and a former law professor at Brigham Young University, so he has close connections to Utah, which has so far been at the center of the investigations and prosecutions. Indeed, the US Attorney for Utah, Brett Tolman, who is leading the prosecution effort in the Utah branch of the investigation, got his law degree at BYU, where he studied under EchoHawk. EchoHawk’s statements on the cases, therefore, have particular resonance in Utah, where popular opinion on the matter is both varied and vehement.
It’s also worth noting that while the position of BIA head (officially Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs) has in recent administrations generally been given to a Native American, the agency is not very popular with many tribes due to its long history of coercive policies and mismanagement of tribal resources. The fact that EchoHawk’s statements are in agreement with the general sentiment among southwestern tribes is perhaps indicative of a trend toward the BIA and the tribes finding common ground despite their difficult history. A common adversary, in this case the pothunters and their allies and apologists among the white population of rural Utah, tends to help such trends.