Everyday Heroes

Southern Ute Tribal member, Billy Jack Baker was recently nominated as one of Today’s Super Heroes, a local initiate highlighting community members as role models. Baker has been an active role model for many years, pictured here with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s archery team during Tri-Ute games.
Rowan and River Griffin embrace their grandmother, Sherry Salazar showing their love for her. Rowan nominated Salazar for the Native American Today’s Super Hero.
Jeremy Wade Shockley/SU DRUM ARCHIVES
Courtesy Photo

We all have that one person who has taught us something that made a significant difference in our lives. It’s refreshing when a local adult role model is acknowledged for having a positive impact on the youth. Southern Ute tribal members, Billy Jack Baker and Sherry Salazar were both nominated to be part of the Today’s Super Heroes initiative brought to you by Boys & Girls Club, San Juan Basin Health and the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health.

We tend to forget that there is always someone looking up to you no matter where life takes you. Giving a special thanks and acknowledgment is a great reminder for those who are making a difference in the community to continue to be a positive peer. Whether it’s a friend, mentor or family member we always have to remember, we have an influence on those around us. Billy Jack Baker and Sherry Salazar, both from Ignacio, have been around the community, serving as active role models for many years.

As adults, we have the ability to make an impact on youth whether we know it or not. The decisions we make, the way we treat people or the way we talk to our youth can shape and mold them. “ It’s always good for tribal youth to see other tribal members who have been through worse situations than what the youth have to deal with today,” Sunute Community Center Director, Ian Thompson said. If we surround them in a negative environment, they will learn from it and often become it, partially because it’s the only thing they know and the cycle continues. If we show love, compassion and respect to our youth, they will give the same back in return.

Today, technology has an incredible impact on what youth learn and give back to the people around them. As adults we see what the youth idolize, often times they associate themselves with anti-role models.

Sherry Salazar has been a long time community member who shows love and respect to those around her. She has a great impact on her grandchildren and is a constant reminder of who they are and where they come from. She continues to educate her grandkids on the Ute traditions, language and values. Throughout their lives she has been selfless when it comes to being there when they need her and shows her endless love and encouragement, according to her granddaughter, Rowan Griffin, who nominated Salazar for the Today’s Native American Superhero.

“She always shows her love and constantly pushes me to be better,” Griffin said.

Billy Jack Baker was a physical education teacher at the Southern Ute Indian Montessori Academy (SUIMA) from 2011-2016 and was nominated by former SUIMA student, Avaleena Nanaeto. While working at SUIMA he was always surrounded by young tribal members and provided them with positive feedback no matter the situation. “He had a way of speaking to the kids, where they would stop, listen and take in all the information he had to offer. When he would see anyone struggling, he would go out of his way to help them in a positive manner,” said SUIMA educator Mari Jo Owens. He was an active role model for the kids and participated in all the physical activities and workouts to show the kids that no matter what, you can be active.

Take a moment to think about who your biggest role models were in life, and the characteristic those individuals had that you looked up to the most. If you have a child, niece, nephew or youth close to you — think about who they look up to and who they are around most. Do the people they idolize have qualities that will help them find positive inspiration or qualities that will help the children around them develop.

It’s important that we as adults lead by example and take the time to really listen to the youth. Reward the youth with love and attention rather than possessions. Encourage them to do their best and let them fail, but not quit, failure is essential to building character and becoming successful in life. The future is in our youth and what they become is up to the peers around them.

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