Dan Hornbuckle becomes Cherokee role model

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The last thing Native American MMA fighter Dan Hornbuckle used to regard himself as was a role model. But years ago he was strolling through a North Carolina music festival, and congratulations started to come in.

“I just had everybody coming up to me going, ‘Oh, great job; great job,'” he said. “And then the Chief came up to me and he just couldn’t thank me enough. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. He said, ‘We appreciate everything you’re doing and the positive impact you’re making.’ And I was like, ‘OK. Thanks. But just what is it that I am doing?'”

“The Chief said, ‘You don’t realize what a positive role model you are by just fighting,’ ” Hornbuckle said. “I was like, ‘Really?’ And he said, ‘You’re dedicating yourself to a goal. You’re sacrificing time away from friends, family to get there. You’re achieving things at a professional level that not many Native Americans have ever achieved before. You’re passing on a very important lesson.’ 

“In my itty, bitty little world, all I was doing was fighting. But on the reservation, I came to realize I was a very positive role model. I don’t want to say it was pressure, but it was a motivator that made me realize I had more ability than just being a fighter with a bad hair cut.”

From that day, Hornbuckle, now a 32-year-old veteran MMA fighter with a 24-5 record and the DEEP welterweight championship, realized that he was a sort of proselytizer, as well as a fighter.

MMA fan Mike Kelly arranged a May trip to bring Hornbuckle to South Dakota to the Pine Ridge Reservation, home of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe of Native Americans.

“Those are some bad lands out there, brother,” Hornbuckle said. “My cell phone reception was completely cut. That little tether we always rely on? Gone. I realized we were going toward a much different life.”

When he got to Pine Ridge, he was welcomed as a hero. He had fought on television. He had a championship belt. He started on the reservation and had made himself a success, as a man, as an athlete and as a businessman. The lessons went in both directions.

“I realized how good I have it and how many luxuries we have in our everyday lives that we take for granted,” Hornbuckle said. “It put my focus back on appreciation. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate what I had before, but this trip allowed me to see how lucky I am, how fortunate I am. I have a lot of luxuries in my life, even if I don’t think of it in those terms.

“I tell the kids I train in jiu-jitsu [at my academy], you all have your Xbox and your PlayStation and all of that and you complain about the smallest things. Try living like these people, some of whom don’t have toilets and running water. And yet, they get up every day and work hard. And that makes me realize, ‘You know what? I’m blessed. There is no reason I can’t work hard and try the best I can to be the best I can be today.’ I’m all around better for having gone.”

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