WASHINGTON (AP) – An American Indian who served as the attorney general of Idaho was nominated Friday to become the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

President Barack Obama nominated Larry EchoHawk, a law professor at Brigham Young University and a member of the Pawnee tribe, to the post. As well as being the former attorney general, EchoHawk also ran for Idaho governor in 1994, losing to Republican Phil Batt by less than 35,000 votes. At the time, he would have been the nation’s first American Indian governor.

He became the first American Indian elected to a constitutional statewide office when he assumed the post of attorney general in the early 1990s, the White House said.

The embattled Indian Affairs agency has been without a leader for some time. The most recent head, Carl Artman, took the post in March 2007 after it had been vacant for two years and then resigned a little more than a year later.

The agency, which manages 66 million acres of land and oversees Indian schools and other programs, has been embroiled in a lawsuit for 12 years over Indian trust land. The long-running suit claims the Indians were swindled out of billions of dollars in oil, gas, grazing, timber and other royalties overseen by the Interior Department since 1887.

Obama last month nominated Yvette Roubideaux as director of the Indian Health Service, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. He promised during the campaign that he would appoint a senior policy adviser for Indian Affairs in the White House, but has not yet done so.

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