Overview: Ben Nighthorse Campbell
Digital History ID 713
His grandfather fought against George Armstrong Custer at the battle of the Little Big Horn. In 1992 he became the first Indian elected to the U.S. Senate in over sixty years--and the only Senator to wear a pony tail. His name is Ben Nighthorse Campbell, and his life story is a veritable Horatio Alger success story. It is a success story, however, with a critical difference: Campbell is a member of the Northern Cheyenne, and as a three-term member of the House of Representatives and as a Senator from Colorado, he has been an active proponent of self-determination for Native Americans. He had a trying childhood. His father died of alcohol abuse; his mother suffered from tuberculosis. He spent years in an orphanage, and dropped out of high school to join the Air Force during the Korean War. He subsequently worked his way through San Jose State University, graduating in 1957. He worked as a jewelry maker and as a rancher, and served three terms in the House before being elected to the Senate in 1992. As the only Indian member of Congress, he said he had "inherited a national constituency." He brought national attention to Native American issues when he introduced a bill to prevent Washington, D.C. from building a new football stadium unless the Washington Redskins changed the team's name. A staunch defender of cultural diversity, he summed up his philosophy with these words: "I've never believed that to be a part of America, we all have to look alike, dress alike, talk alike." His years in Congress witnessed many victories for Native Americans. These included grants to individual tribes to establish and run schools; and a law that required museums and the federal government to return all human remains and sacred objects that were taken from tribes without their consent. In 1993, the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act guaranteed the right of Native Americans to practice traditional religions without state interference. Yet if much had been achieved, much more remained to be accomplished before Native Americans attained Campbell's goal of true self-determination.
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