If one looks back at what has been presented as U.S. History, there might be a common thread of dominance by overwhelming brute force. After reading the biography of Ben Nighthorse Campbell and biographies of other powerful Native American leaders, one might begin to wonder if the future of our country might change dramatically by paying attention to "power"; how we get it, how we use it, and how it affects others.
It wasn't until sometime in his early youth that Ben Nighthorse Campbell learned about his Native American heritage. Like so many Native Americans, his father had grown up in a time of shame for anyone with an Indian background. His father preferred to keep his ties to his roots a secret. According to the available evidence, his father was part Apache, part Pueblo Indian, and part Cheyenne, living part of his life with members of the Black Horse family on the Lame Deer reservation. Ben's mother, born off the coast of Portugal, suffered with bouts of tuberculosis during Ben's childhood. This most difficult childhood produced a spirit in Ben probably very much like his Cheyenne ancestors. As warriors, it has been said of them that they "gave out, but never gave up." Rather than submit to a degrading lifestyle on the reservation as wards of the government, they resisted as long as they possibly could. Ruben Black Horse was such a warrior. After being wounded while escaping a barrage of gunfire as he dashed out of the compound, he joined the bands of Dull Knife and Little Wolf as they joined forces with Sitting Bull at Little Bighorn. It wasn't long after the battle that Black Horse and others obtained sanctuary with Crazy Horse, before they were forced by the U.S. Government to move away from their sacred lands and on to the searing heat of the reservation.
Certainly Ben Nighthorse Campbell has demonstrated similar courage throughout his life. After leaving highschool, he developed a passion for the then newly budding sport of judo. Overcoming numerous seemingly insurmountable obstacles as a youngster, in college he became the youngest person in the United States to hold the fourth degree black belt. He went on to study in Japan with the most respected judo masters. Ben was never short on determination. One student in particular, was a menacing opponent. He kept his photo on the wall of his room, and shouted to it often, "I will beat you!", and he finally did.
Ben was named to the U.S. Olympic Judo team in 1964, but an injury caused him to collapse on the floor during the match, which yielded his opponent the bronze medal by default. Ben went on to bring the sport of judo into a specialized system for kids, teaching them self discipline, self control and self respect, as he established one of the first successful clubs for kids.
With Campbell's determination and magnanimous spirit, it was only natural that he enter the political arena where his perseverance has in fact left it's mark on American history. Campbell likes to view himself as a person of passion and this passion has rattled more than a few formidable foes. As the only American Indian in congress he found himself, de facto, the representative of all Indians throughout the United States.
"I believe everybody has his own way of making change." said Campbell, and change he did. Laden with symbolism, Campbell played a significant role in the controversy surrounding the site of the battle of the Little Bighorn, known by some as Custer's Last Stand. This battle is arguably the most well known, yet least understood, engagement in four centuries of struggle between the red man and white man for control of North America. Emulating the exploits of Black Horse, his Cheyenne ancestor, Campbell counted coup on each opponent who stood between him and the final victory. Thanks largely to his efforts, congress changed the name of the site from Custer Battlefield National Monument to the Little Bighorn National Monument, and authorized a memorial to the Indians who fought there as well.
Campbell entered the spotlight on behalf of the American Indian once again as he rode at the head of the Tournament of Roses parade in 1992, the quincentennial anniversary year of Columbus's arrival in the Americas, with Cristobal Colon, a direct descendent of Christopher Columbus. With much controversy Campbell rode at the head of the parade on Black Warbonnet, his splendid black and white paint, in full tribal regalia of beaded buckskins and an eagle-feather headdress with two trailers. Campbell usually favors participation rather than opposition. "There are some that will never get over fighting the old wars," Campbell remarked in early 1991. "I have to remember many years of mistreatment and the continued tragedies facing Indian people. You know, my philosophy has always been that we need to remember those tragedies to make sure that things like that don't happen again, but we also have to have a positive agenda. Otherwise how can we make it better? If you settle for exclusion instead of inclusion it never gets any better." Once again Campbell rode in a national parade, the inaugural parade of President Clinton, as the representative of the American Indians. On that day Austin Two Moons, Campbell's mentor and spiritual advisor, vigorously waved in one hand a eagle-wing fan that had once belonged to the famous Sioux chief Red Cloud, and in the other hand the American flag. Austin Two Moons remarked "You know, we have a right to this flag. When Custer came to drive us from our land, he carried it. My grandfather told me that at the Little Bighorn, Custer dropped the flag and the Cheyenne picked it up. We have kept it ever since. Now the flag unites all of us in this great country. Now we are all friends and we need to work for world peace." What better student to carry the flag than Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell. For more information "Ben Nighthorse Campbell" by Herman J. Viola.Return to Powersource Gallery