Freedom Fighters: 8 Courageous Native Americans

Vincent Schilling

Indian Country boasts an impressive number of elders, heroes, activists and trailblazers who work for the betterment of Indigenous Peoples as a whole. This is not an easy task, and those who truly fulfill this mission are worth noting—especially during this week as inhabitants of the land known today as the United States celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

In this light we are taking some time to recognize eight courageous Native heroes, both men and women, who have unflinchingly confronted the injustices faced by Indigenous Peoples. Although there are thousands upon thousands of them, these are just a few of the American Indians who are today displaying extraordinary courage and enacting change.

Mark Bowman, Choctaw, Ph.D. College Professor, Former Police Lieutenant and Special Forces Commander

Mark Bowman

Mark Bowman currently serves as a professor of criminal justice at Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina, having retired as a lieutenant from the Virginia Beach Police Department in 2009. He previously served as a sergeant and lead faculty at West Point’s U.S. Military Academy as well as working as a detective and a S.W.A.T. team officer. He also served 26 years in the infantry of the U.S. Army, was a major in the reserves and twice commanded the special forces.  Bowman is also an amateur triathlete, having competed in more than 60 events.

Hotshot Firefighting Teams, Multiple Tribal Affiliations

Golden Eagle Hotshots

Wildfires are ubiquitous this time of year, even more so due to drought. The Assayii Lake fire on the Navajo Nation that has just been quenched is merely one example. While gratitude overflowed into posters thanking the firefighters who battled the flames, there are many more groups of elite hotshot teams working the season. It begs mentioning the brave and heroic actions of hotshot interagency firefighting crews such as the Golden Eagles hotshots, who hail from the Sycuan reservation near San Diego.

Currently there are seven Bureau of Indian Affairs Interagency Hotshot crews, generally made up of a 20-person team that can be sent anywhere in the United States, Mexico and Canada at a moment’s notice. They are often dropped off by helicopter into the most dangerous parts of wild land wildfires. This job is not for the meek.

Chief Mountain IHC – Blackfeet Tribe, Montana

Fort Apache IHC – BIA Program, Fort Apache Agency, Arizona

Geronimo IHC – San Carlos Apache Tribe, Arizona

Golden Eagles – Sycuan Tribe, California

Navajo IHC – BIA Program, Navajo Agency, New Mexico

Warm Springs IHC – Confederated Tribes Warm Springs Tribe, Oregon

Zuni IHC – BIA Program, Zuni Agency, New Mexico

Elouise Cobell, Blackfeet

Eloise Cobell

Elouise Cobell rocked the very fabric of this United States when she led a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. and the Department of the Interior that resulted in one of the nation’s biggest-ever payouts by the government, totaling about $3.4 billion.

RELATED: Cobell Settlement to Begin Paying Out by Christmas

Though she passed away at age 65 in 2011, Cobell’s work has successfully forwarded millions of dollars to rightful hands to include several millions of which are expected to go toward the education of Native youth seeking higher education.

RELATED: Elouise Cobell, 65, Walks On

Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Cheyenne

Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell

Once a judo Olympian on the American team, former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (retired) overcame a long history of tragedy to succeed as a mover and shaker at the highest levels of government. Growing up in the ’30s and ’40s—times that were far from friendly to Indians—Nighthorse had to hide his identity after a friend of his father’s had been killed, execution-style, by racist extremists.

Working hard in school, Nighthorse learned jewelry making from a samurai sword maker and judo while in Japan. He later came to the U.S. and worked his way to the Senate. Through his legislation, many tribes were added to state contracts for better roads. He passed 32 bills for the benefit of Land consolidation, education, strength in tribal courts and water safety.


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