Bunky Echo-Hawk
Bunky Echo-Hawk, far right, is seen on stage during the Native Nations Rise event near the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 10, 2017. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Fallout from criminal case against prominent artist spreads in Indian Country
Tuesday, February 8, 2022
Indianz.Com

A growing number of Indian Country organizations are distancing themselves from Walter Roy Echo-Hawk Jr. following revelations of the criminal charge against the prominent artist.

The 46-year-old Echo-Hawk, who hails from the Pawnee Nation and the Yakama Nation, has frequently collaborated with a wide range of Indian-led groups. But in acknowledging their past work with the artist more commonly known as “Bunky,” the organizations are taking a stand in light of the nature of the criminal case, which involves abuse against a child.

The American Indian College Fund, headquartered in Colorado, was one of the first to make a public statement once news of the charge became more widely known over the weekend. A statement on Monday afternoon came after Indianz.Com published an initial write-up of the case earlier in the day.

“Like you, the College Fund has learned about the allegations against Bunky Echo-Hawk, a Native artist we have worked with in the past,” a post on social media read. “We will be following the legal proceedings as they unfold.”

In 2019, Echo-Hawk designed a “Pathway” blanket for Pendleton, a non-Indian company that said the proceeds would help the College Fund provide scholarships for American Indian and Alaska Native youth. The product page is no longer available on Pendelton.Com and a video featuring the artist has since been set to private on YouTube.

The Urban Indian Health Institute also had worked with Echo-Hawk. The organization, based in Washington, said it was “removing any materials made in collaboration with him or featuring his art.”

“We have worked tirelessly to address sexual violence against women and girls, and we always stand firmly with survivors,” a social media post later on Monday read.

The organization’s leadership includes a member of the prominent and large Echo-Hawk family, whose work spans art, activism, law and politics. Abigail Echo-Hawk reaffirmed her sentiments about the case on Monday as well.

“I believe and stand with victims,” Echo-Hawk, who serves as executive vice president of the urban Indian health advocacy group, wrote in a post on one of her personal social media accounts.

On Tuesday, another organization that arose out of the efforts of the Echo-Hawk family weighed in with a statement in support of “supporting survivors of violence and abuse.” IllumiNative indicated it had recently learned of the criminal case.

“We have become aware of the charges filed against Bunky Echo-Hawk and we have taken actions to ensure he will not be involved with the organization, or affiliated projects, in the future,” the statement posted on social media read.

The non-profit IllumiNative, which has gained nationwide acclaim for its work on issues such as racist mascots and representation of Native peoples in film, media and television, is led by Crystal Echohawk. On behalf of her relative, she created the GoFundMe that raised over $163,000 in the wake of a fatal accident that took the life of a young family member.

“At this time, we are asking Bunky’s many relatives, friends and supporters across Indian Country to support him and his family,” Crystal wrote in the successful solicitation, a copy of which was posted by the Museum of Native American History in Arkansas, where the artist’s work has been featured.

Despite the disclosures, other entities that have worked with Echo-Hawk or have ties to his large family remained silent about the criminal matter. The Nike multinational corporation, where the artist had been a designer for the N7 Collection geared toward Native people, is among those facing pressure on social media to make a statement in support of survivors.

NDN Collective, where Crystal Echo Hawk serves as president of the board and which frequently touts IllumiNative’s efforts, hasn’t gone public either as of Tuesday afternoon. The growing non-profit, headquartered in South Dakota, had encouraged donations to the GoFundMe, according to a post on social media that no longer appears to be accessible.

The Pawnee Nation is also being urged to go public by some of its citizens. Echo-Hawk’s father is Walter Echo-Hawk Sr., who currently serves as the tribe’s president. The elder Echo-Hawk is a well-known Indian law and policy advocate.

“Henry Ford Cummings was my grandfather who fought world wars for your rights to exist,” one Pawnee citizen wrote in reference to her late ancestor.

“He would be proud as I speak up on your silence,” the comment on a tribal social media post asserted.

Echo-Hawk Jr. is facing one felony county of lewd acts with a child under 16. The crime is punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison. A person convicted of the crime must also register as a sex offender.

The charge stems from an investigation that took place in late 2021, according to an examination of records in Echo-Hawk’s case and that of a separate custody case involving a minor. Documents in the latter case disclose allegations of domestic violence within Echo-Hawk’s home in Pawnee, Oklahoma.

The domestic violence allegation was made by a parent of the minor on September 17. Based on the representation, a judge in Pawnee County District Court issued an “emergency temporary custody order” in favor of the parent who made the request that same day.

The parent followed up about a month later with more serious allegations. In a motion to secure permanent custody, revelations of child sexual abuse against Echo-Hawk were reported to the court.

According to an October 12 filing made by the parent, the minor reported being molested by Echo-Hawk when the child was “9 years of age.” The parent also disclosed incidents of self-harm and physical abuse.

In between the two filings, attorneys with connections to the Echo-Hawk family entered the case on behalf of the other parent of the minor child. The Pipestem law firm is led by named partners Wilson Pipestem and Mary Kathryn Nagle.

Pipestem, a citizen of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, is a prominent attorney who played a significant role in the early research efforts of Illuminative. His work has touched on many Indian law and policy areas, including prevention of violence against women and children in Indian Country.

Nagle, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is a prominent advocate who serves on the advisory board for Illuminative. Her efforts on violence against women and children in Indian Country has reached the U.S. Supreme Court as tribes seek to ensure they have the authority to punish all perpetrators, regardless of race, of crime and abuse.

According to the docket in the child custody case, the Pipestem law firm joined the case on September 29, less than two weeks after the grant of emergency temporary custody. The additional allegations of abuse were made in a court filing two weeks after that.

Attempts to contact the firm, based in Oklahoma, in the morning and again in the afternoon on Tuesday were initially unsuccessful. A voice message was left in the afternoon.

Carmen Marie Richardville White Eagle, the Pawnee citizen who posted about the case on the tribal social media account, explained to Indianz.Com why she went public. She underscored the need for her own leaders to speak out.

“As a small tribe from Oklahoma with a big emphasis on the elites, the Pawnee Nation has a responsibility and a duty to its alleged most precious assets: our womxn, children, Two-Spirit and trans relatives who statistics prove are more in danger,” said White Eagle. “The tribe’s lack of support for the victim and silence around the issue speaks to the idea of a cover.”

White Eagle is a leader with NOISE, which raises awareness about the crisis of missing and murdered Native relatives. The organization is based in Oklahoma.

“As vice chair of an organization that educates, creates safety and advocates for the protection of our marginalized, it is also my duty to use what platform I have to bring this into the light,” White Eagle added.

“This is not the conduct of a tribe my grandfather taught me to honor,” White Eagle said of the late Henry Ford “Hank” Cummings, a U.S. Navy veteran who served in World War II.

Public knowledge of the criminal case arose this weekend, after Echo-Hawk’s mugshot was posted by a widely-read publication in Oklahoma. A copy of the cover page of the latest issue appeared on social media on Saturday, generating interest across Indian Country.

Subsequent to his arrest on the charge on January 14, Echo-Hawk continued to make posts about his recovery from the October 16, 2021, incident that took the life of his 15-year-old daughter. The crash occurred in Colorado, as the pair were making their way to Oklahoma for a Pawnee Nation ceremony.

Not long after the tragic collision, Echo-Hawk shared a condolence letter sent by President Joe Biden on behalf of himself and First Lady Jill Biden. The post was an indication of the influence of the Echo-Hawk family throughout law and politics.

According to court records, the case against Echo-Hawk is being prosecuted by Pawnee County Assistant District Attorney Jeff S. Jones. He is a former attorney general of the Osage Nation.

Echo-Hawk is being represented by attorneys from the Atkins Markoff Adler law firm.

The case is State of Oklahoma v. Walter Roy Echo-Hawk Jr, No. CF-2022-00001.

Note: Thumbnail photo of Pawnee, Oklahoma, by Kevin

Support from StrongHearts Native Helpline
StrongHearts Native Helpline, which is available for free nationwide, is a culturally-appropriate, anonymous, confidential service dedicated to serving Native American and Alaska Native survivors of domestic, dating and sexual violence and concerned relatives and friends. Knowledgeable advocates provide peer support, crisis intervention, personalized safety planning and referrals to Native-centered support services. Call or text 1-844-7NATIVE or visit strongheartshelpline.org for chat advocacy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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