By Santee Ross, University of Montana
I am a total sucker for a Native man in a good pair of wranglers—a site I sneak second looks for. Aside from my heart, Native cowboys are also on the minds of a lot of people lately with the 2011 National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas according to.
Two Navajo men were honored by the Navajo president before they set off for the National Finals Rodeo last week, Erich Rogers and Derrick Begay. These Native cowboys aren’t mere dude cowboys either, with Begay ranking first in team roping, header and Rogers ranking third—my beating heart be still.
Native cowboys have always made me giggle, not just with girlish excitement but at the contradiction they represent. Cowboys and Indians are usually portrayed as enemies (sometimes true), so when Native cowboys come along it seems like an oxymoron.
I’ve lived a large portion of my life among the world of Native cowboys and ranchers. My own father is a Native cowboy, so I know the life of a cowboy and the life of an Indian are not that far apart. In its own unique way, the life of a Native cowboy isn’t an oxymoron at all but just an overlapping kind of life.
Think of a Venn diagram, where an Indian life is one circle and the cowboy life is the other. In the middle is where the two share a certain set of values that allow harmony. Both cowboys and Indians know that when you make a promise, you keep it. They know that some things aren’t for sale and that you do what has to be done. There are so many more values and because of this shared moral code, it’s easy to see how a Native leads a cowboy way of life.
Not to mention Natives were “cowboys,” before there were cowboys. Native people would rely on the horse for day to day living as well as survival in battle. Warriors would develop a kinship with their ponies. Native people have a deep connection and hold so much respect towards the horse because they are a large part of our culture.
Today Native cowboys still rely on them, especially when it comes to ranch work or ranking first in a National Finals Rodeo. With those Native cowboys there it’s too bad I won’t be there to stare—I mean cheer.
Santee Ross (Hopi/Navajo) is from Lander, Wyo.