Gallery Artists > Ben Nighthorse Cambell Biography :

Ben Nighthorse Cambell (b. 1933)  Artworks >>

In 1992, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a rancher, teacher, judo champion, and jewelry designer became the first Native American to serve in the U.S. Senate in more than 60 years. Campbell was born April 13, 1933, in Auburn, California, the son of Albert Valdez Campbell, who was part Northern Cheyenne Indian, and Mary Vierra, a Portuguese immigrant. His mother was a patient and occasional employee at a tuberculosis sanatorium when she met his father, who also worked there. They were married in 1929 and had two children, Campbell and his sister, Alberta Campbell, who died at the age of 44, an apparent suicide. Campbell's father was an alcoholic who frequently disappeared, leaving Campbell's mother to support and care for the children. Campbell and his sister spent time in orphanages and foster homes when their mother was too sick to work and provide for them. Eventually, his father was able to work and the family opened a small grocery store, which prospered later when a freeway was built with an exit ramp at the location of the store. When Campbell entered high school he had little sense of enthusiasm or direction concerning his education. In 1950, he dropped out and joined the U.S. Air Force. He served in the Korean war and was discharged from the service with the rank of airman, second class. He passed the high school equivalency test to receive his general equivalency diploma, and in 1957 graduated from San Jose State University with a bachelor's degree in physical education and fine arts. When he was a teenager Campbell became interested in judo and it became a driving force in his life. "Judo teaches you to persevere, to never give up," he said. "That skill is transferable to business, to school, to politics." Campbell continued to develop his judo skill while he was in the service, and after completing college, he moved to Tokyo, where he lived for four years, studying at Meiji University and perfecting his abilities. In 1963, he won a gold medal at the Pan-American Games and, in 1964, he was captain of the U.S. Olympic Judo Team at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Campbell's interest in judo continued throughout his life. After the 1964 Olympics he returned to California to teach high school physical education. During the summers he conducted judo camps for children. He also pioneered judo instruction in physical education programs at California high schools. During this period he met Linda Price—they were married in 1966 and had two children, Shanan, also known as Sweet Medicine Woman, and Colin, whose Indian name is Takes Arrows. Eventually, Campbell left his job as a physical education teacher and set up an industrial arts program at an alternative high school for troubled students. He also developed a jewelry-making class for adult Native American students, which fueled his interest in his Native American heritage. When Campbell was growing up, his father hesitated to talk about his ancestry because of his fear that the family would be subjected to discrimination. But Campbell persisted, and his father finally gave him information that led him to relatives on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana. There, in 1980, he was officially enrolled as a member of the Black Horse family and of the Northern Cheyenne tribe. Currently he is one of 44 chiefs of the Northern Cheyenne. Campbell entered the world of politics by chance. He attended a Colorado democratic party meeting in May 1982 hoping to see a friend whom he thought might be there. Party officials were trying to find someone willing to run for state representative from Campbell's district against a Republican who was considered a certain winner. No one but Campbell was willing to take on the challenge. To everyone's great surprise, he not only won but carried 57 percent of the vote, including 15 percent of the crossover vote from the Republican side. Campbell was a Democrat whose blend of fiscal conservatism and social l

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