Trailblazer

updated 06/06/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/06/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

AT FIRST GLANCE THE MAN IN THE NECKTIE and conservative blue suit at the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in southeastern Idaho seems jarringly out of place. Nothing could be more deceiving. Larry EchoHawk, 45, is on the campaign trail, running for governor and a place in the history books. If he wins this fall—as expected—he will become the first Native American governor in U.S. history.

For a politician, EchoHawk is a rare breed. He is a Democrat against abortion, a devout Mormon who supports gay rights and a Native American who opposes legalizing casino gambling on Indian reservations. He is also shy and reserved. Even at one of his own $30-a-plate campaign dinners, he is normally off in a comer, not pumping hands. "It's hard for me to reach out," he says in soft, measured tones. "My quietness is in my genes, passed down from my great-grandfather, a quiet Pawnee warrior." The old man was legendary, he says, for never speaking of his achievements, leaving that to his fellow tribesmen. "As they sang his praises," says Larry, "it was like an echo. Thus the name EchoHawk."

One of six children born to Ernest, a Pawnee oilfield worker, and his wife, Jane, who is white, Larry suffered some prejudice growing up in Farmington, N.Mex. "It was a struggle," he says. "I'm only half-Indian, but with a name like EchoHawk, you don't pass for Irish." He also had to live with his father's alcoholism—until 1962, when a Mormon missionary converted the entire family. A top athlete, Larry won a football scholarship to Brigham Young University. In 1968 he married Terry Pries, a nurse he had known since fourth grade (though, admits Terry, "we didn't get serious until we were seventh-graders").

EchoHawk graduated from the University of Utah Law School in 1973 and settled in Salt Lake City, where he specialized in Native American legal issues. In 1980 he, Terry and five of their six children, now ages 8 to 24, moved to Pocatello, Idaho. Two years later he went into politics, serving in the stale legislature and as a prosecutor before being elected state attorney general in 1990. "His great projection of sincerity is unsurpassed by anyone I have met in politics," says Democratic stale senator Chick Bilyeu, 77. Adds Doug Nilson, a professor of politics at Idaho State University: "What Larry has can't be created by an imagemaker." Not that EchoHawk needs one. "I believe I can do it," says EchoHawk. "I've beaten the odds all my life."

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