North Dakota Law

Updates from the University of North Dakota School of Law.

Walter R. Echo-Hawk Distinguished Indian Law Speaker

Walter Echo-Hawk is one of the foremost experts in Indian law and is a distinguished author, tribal judge, law professor, and member of the Pawnee Nation.

Echo-Hawk presented, “Challenges for Federal Indian Law Practitioners in the Decade Ahead”, to a full crowd in the UND School of Law VandeWalle Courtroom on Wednesday, April 17, 2024.

He is the past President of the Pawnee Nation Business Council (2020-2023), an author, attorney, jurist, and legal scholar. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2023. He is the author of The Sea of Grass (2018); In The Light Of Justice (2013); In the Courts of the Conqueror (2010); and Battlefields and Burial Grounds (1994). He is a Pawnee Indian with a BA in Political Science from Oklahoma State University (1970) and a JD, from the University of New Mexico School of Law (1973). He practices law in Oklahoma and serves as Chair, Board of Directors, Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM); and is a member of the Board of Directors for The MICA Group, which renders assistance to Tribal Nations and communities.

As a staff attorney of the Native American Rights Fund (1973-2009), he represented Indian Tribes, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians on significant legal issues in the modern era of federal Indian law, during the rise of modern Indian Nations in the tribal sovereignty movement. He litigated indigenous rights pertaining to religious freedom, prisoner rights, water rights, treaty rights, and reburial/repatriation rights. Echo-Hawk is admitted to practice law before the US Supreme Court, Colorado Supreme Court, Oklahoma Supreme Court, Courts of Appeals for the 8th, 9th, 10th and District of Columbia Circuits, Federal Claims Court, and several US District Courts. Highlights from his legal career include:

Representing tribal clients to obtain repatriation legislation: (a) precedent-setting legislation in Nebraska (1989) and Kansas (1988) directing museums to return and rebury dead bodies and grave objects to Tribes of origin; (b) the 1989 reburial agreement with the Smithsonian Institution enacted into the National Museum of the American Indian Act; (c) the 1986-1990 legislative campaign culminating in the passage of Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

  • Representing the Native American Church of North America (1990-1994) to obtain passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments of 1994.
  • In 2010, he represented the Klamath Tribes in a trial to quantify treaty-protected Indian water rights for hunting, fishing, and gathering purposes; and various Tlingit tribes to repatriate sacred objects and cultural patrimony.
  • In private practice (2009-2023) Echo-Hawk has represented various Oklahoma tribes; served as a Justice on the Supreme Courts of the Pawnee and Kickapoo Nations; and taught Federal Indian Law at law schools of Tulsa University, Lewis & Clark, and University of Hawai’i.’ As President of the Pawnee Nation (2020-2023), he helped the Nation navigate the COVID-19 Pandemic, face the related downturn in the economy, while achieving significant growth.

Echo-Hawk’s visit is made possible through the Northern Plains Indian Law Center whose primary purposes are to promote diversity in the legal profession by recruiting American Indian law students, preparing native and non-native law students for the practice of federal Indian and Tribal law, and serving tribal governments in addressing legal issues affecting Indian country.

The Center’s Programs include the Northern Plains Tribal Judicial Training Institute, the Tribal Environmental Law Project, the Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming Law and Policy, and the Indian & Tribal Law Certificate. These Programs and the Center are supported and supplemented by nationally recognized law faculty who research, write, and speak on a broad variety of Indian and Tribal law issues.

It is the goal of the University of North Dakota’s Northern Plains Indian Law Center to promote and support American Indians and tribes in their endeavors to advance legal opportunities for Indian people living in or associated with the states of North Dakota, Minnesota, and South Dakota, and to foster greater cross-cultural exchange in the interest of mutual understanding and development.

The Northern Plains Indian Law Center is governed by an Internal Advisory Committee which consists of law school faculty and staff. The Center also receives valuable input from an External Advisory Board composed of tribal government officials, community members, attorneys, and educators.


Watch the full event here!