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Case against prominent Native American artist "Bunky" Echo-Hawk Jr. moves forward

The Pawnee County Courthouse in Pawnee, Okla.
Pawnee County District Court
The Pawnee County Courthouse in Pawnee, Okla.

A criminal case against a high profile Native artist in Oklahoma is moving forward after a district court judge refused to dismiss charges against him.

Walter 'Bunky' Echo-Hawk, Jr.
Walter 'Bunky' Echo-Hawk, Jr.

"Bunky" Echo Hawk Jr., whose legal name is Walter Roy Echo-Hawk Jr., appeared in Pawnee County court along with his attorney Dan Good and father, Walter Echo-Hawk Sr. who is the current President of the Pawnee nation.

Echo-Hawk Jr.'s attorney asked a judge to dismiss charges of lewd or indecent acts towards a child under the age of 16 and one count of producing, distributing, possessing juvenile pornography, charges that could land him in prison for 20 years. The judge declined and Echo-Hawk Jr.'s arraignment date was set for Feb. 3.

More than a dozen people from the group NOISE (Northeastern Oklahoma Indigenous Safety & Education), including Olivia Gray, were at the courthouse to show support for the accuser.

"The more people that can come and show support for this child victim, the better," Gray said. "This is not only horrific in terms of what happened to a kid, but it's also a very politically charged trial because of the prominence of the Echo-Hawk family."

Walter Echo-Hawk Sr. is a prominent attorney in Indian Country, having worked on the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act, a cornerstone piece of legislation passed in 1991 that demanded federal institutions return sacred objects and remains to tribal nations. Echo-Hawk Sr.'s cousin John Echo-Hawk founded the Native American Rights Fund and his brother is an Idaho politician.

Echo-Hawk Jr. maintains his innocence and denies accessing child pornography. Echo-Hawk Jr. was arrested last year after a minor child reported him to authorities for inappropriately touching them.

Reached by phone, Echo Hawk Jr.'s attorney Dan Good gave this statement to KOSU:

"From the beginning of this case, we believe in Mr. Echo-Hawk's innocence," Good said. "We look forward to putting the facts in front of a jury, so they can see what we see and will acquit Mr. Echo-Hawk of all charges."

Assistant District Attorney Jeff Jones, who is an Osage citizen and the former attorney general for the Osage Nation, told the judge that the state would stand by the evidence it presented to the court-which included images recovered from the defendant's computer and testimony from the alleged victim in the case.

Good, Echo-Hawk Jr.'s attorney, when trying to get the pornography charges dismissed, argued Wesley Clymer, the Pawnee Chief of Police who conducted the search of Echo-Hawk Jr.'s computer, had no expertise in identifying pornography and that multiple people accessed the computer the images were alleged to be found.

In December 2021, with a search warrant in hand, police went to Echo-Hawk Jr.'s home and took the computer in question. In July 2022, charges of possessing juvenile pornography were filed.

The judge told Echo-Hawk Jr. and his attorney that the purpose of the hearing was to determine whether there was probable cause for the case to move forward. He determined there was.

Bunky Echo-Hawk Jr. (Pawnee/Yakama) made a name for himself creating art that covered political and Native American issues. His work was featured in several institutions, including the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City. Spokespeople from FAM told KOSU last year they would be removing his work from the gallery walls. He was also featured in a PBS series on Native art and resistance and in several national publications.

Gray told supporters of the accuser that the outcome of Tuesday's hearing was only the beginning.

“I am very grateful that so many people traveled to Pawnee today to stand in solidarity with this family and show care for the victim,” she wrote on Facebook following the hearing. "It made my heart feel good to have Bunky witness the fact that the victim and the victim family are no longer standing alone and that it is Indigenous people who are showing support for the victim."

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Allison Herrera covered Indigenous Affairs for KOSU from April 2020 to November 2023.
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