I think 2016 needs a Superhero of the Year Award. Don’t you? It’s been a pretty challenging time for the entire country. And we definitely are not done being bounced around yet, but I think planting a positive note in the end of the year might change the tone at least a little.

I just watched a live stream of the situation at Standing Rock. How inspiring those dedicated warriors are!

Thousands of people cocooned in layers of heavy clothing against North Dakota frigid. Held high and proud, the flags of hundreds of nations snapping in the vigorous wind. Snow dropping in huge, wet globs, at times a blizzard, crunching underfoot. Sometimes drums beating rhythmically in the background; sometimes the breaking out of chanting, song, and ululation; sometimes shouts of “Forward!” and “Move out!” from the vets.

Mere days ago, the Water Protectors bravely withstood the insult of being fired upon with rubber bullets, water cannons, concussion grenades, dog attack, beatings, arrests.

I’ve seen this kind of courage and determination before. In the sixties, I wasn’t old enough to join in, but was old enough to understand. Now, my health keeps me away, but I’m with them in heart and spirit, just as I was then.

Where does it come from? Why do they persevere against such odds? I think the answer is pretty much the same in both cases. Proud, respectful people tricked and beaten into oppression; hundreds of years of being treated like you’re far less than you know you are, with disdain and even ridicule. Backed into corner after corner after corner, until it all finally comes down to the wrong corner. The corner that counts for everything. The one that says unless you stand up and fight back, whatever the odds, you got nothin’ left. The one that says you gotta win this one, or lose all meaning, even your very survival. The corner where the odds don’t matter, because you just gotta do what’s right, no matter what. That corner.

And this group of veterans, led by Wesley Clark, Jr., is an impressive bunch, too. I stood up and cheered when I heard they were on their way. Yes! I thought. That’s what America is about! That’s what it should be about. About standing together. About not just standing up for rights, but for what is right.  And about keeping our world safe–remembering that the environment literally is our world.

When Wesley Clark, Jr., and his band of protectors of the protectors arrived, they came respectfully before the elders and knelt down on one knee, and apologized to the tribes for the atrocities that have been committed against them in all of our long history together. And the elders accepted the apology and called for world peace. The vets returned the cry. “World Peace!”

I have been inspired to recognize these people by declaring them Superheroes of the Year. Every one of them. The Native Americans who have stood like mountains in North Dakota, protectors of Mother Earth and the Water of Life, and those, too, who have come from around the world to stand with them. Who take their responsibility for the earth and the environment seriously, understanding that what we do to it, we do to ourselves. Even if you don’t believe in climate change, why would you want to trash and destroy our home like this? Native Americans understand this in their very souls. And the veterans, with humility and strength and respect, recalling their honor and their oath, living up to both with great dignity and pride. They stand together, these Americans. These Superheroes.

I salute you.