Who Are Your Heroes, Past and Present, Native and Non-Native?

Sonny Skyhawk offers his thoughts on what constitutes a hero.

Life is filled with people who become heroes and people whom you admire for one reason or another, but my heroes have always been my ancestors. We all have heroes as we grow up and I was no different than anyone else, with the exception that my heroes were not baseball players, football players or Superman.

When I was a young boy, my main hero was my Granpa. He was my hero because he always made sure I was OK. He was a teacher of sorts, like most Granpas are. We would talk about many different things and he would take the time to explain all my questions, and answer all my "whys." He was also a no-nonsense disciplinarian who corrected me (more times than would have liked), made sure that I always attended school, and instilled in me a work ethic that I still follow to this day. He was a true hero figure to me as a boy, and I will always be grateful.

Later, as I grew up, I learned there was a difference between a hero figure and someone you came to admire. As a child you sometimes get those things mixed up. For example, my comic book "hero," was Hopalong Cassidy, the fictional western cowboy.

The black and white movies of Hopalong Cassidy had become so successful that they in turn became a television series that ran from 1952 to 1954. William Boyd played Hopalong Cassidy, who rode his beautiful Palomino horse Topper as his trusted mount. Edgar Buchanan played a sidekick named Red Connors, who added the comic relief. Hopalong Cassidy was my "hero" because he was always chasing the bad guys and dishing out true justice in the West. (I don’t ever remember him "killing" any Indians.)

I have an early memory of sending away a comic book coupon for a neckerchief with Hopalong Cassidy's picture printed on it. For many weeks, I waited and bothered the mailman, until finally one day the neckerchief arrived. The first time I wore it to school, I got in a fight and lost it in the commotion, and suddenly all those weeks of waiting and anticipation were for naught. I had also saved up my money to buy the set of Hopalong Cassidy cap firing six-shooters that I had seen in the window of the local Woolworths in town, but when I finally got permission to buy them the store had sold out, so I never did get those twin silver cap pistols.

Instead, I proudly joined the Cub Scouts and spent my money, hard earned from mowing lawns, on a Cub Scout shirt and the yellow and blue neckerchief that went with the uniform. Even though I could not afford the pants and the hat, I still looked good come meeting and inspection night -- I know because my hero, my Granpa, told me so.

Heroes it seems, come in all walks of life, and you are the one who gets to decide who they are and why they are heroes to you. My heroes, past and present, are mostly people who have given of themselves for the betterment of others. I've always been interested in those who, when called on to act instantaneously, answer that call with absolutely no concern for themselves. For example, the countless unselfish military acts of soldiers in the heat of battle have always amazed me.

Natives, as warriors who've had to defend ourselves from time immemorial, have always had a lot of heroes to choose from. And our heroes have served us well. Some became heroes because of what they did, and some for what they did not do. Crazy Horse, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Quanah Parker, and many others, who gave of themselves so that their people might survive, meet my criteria of what constitutes a hero.

The Code Talkers of World War II helped end that conflict early because of their ability to use their Native languages in a code that the enemy could not decipher. In doing so they saved countless American lives -- I would described them as heroes. The many Native recipients who've earned the highest recognition for their sacrifice, the Congressional Medal of Honor, are definitely heroes.

Today, when I read of men and women giving their lives while serving their country, I pay homage to them by thanking them for their service, and reading every word of the article. The people on Flight 93 who so bravely foiled their hijackers during the September 11th, 2001 crisis will always be the unexpected heroes of today.

When people talk of heroes, it amazes me how fortunate we've been to have had so many. And we will have many more in the future.

People we call heroes deserve our admiration for having given the most precious gift of all, their lives, for the betterment of others.