Jay C. Fikes,
Reuben Snake, Your Humble Serpent: Indian Visionary & Activist
(Clear Light, 1996)

Reuben Snake was one of the most colorful of Native American leaders in the last century. His sense of humor is reflected in the title, Reuben Snake, Your Humble Serpent: Indian Visionary & Activist. He loved to introduce himself as "your humble serpent."

Reuben's life story is one to inspire and uplift. He proves what one person can accomplish if they have the courage and conviction to take a stand. He is an American hero in every sense of the word.

Of course, I have to point out that he was a Green Beret with the U.S. Army. On page 34 there is a quote from Being Indian Is (Nebraska Indian Press, 1972) that recalls "fighting with the U.S. Army to save your country from the evils of communism and against the U.S. Army on your reservation to keep the Corps of Engineers from stealing all of your land."

Reuben, the Green Beret veteran, came home to face open prejudice, discrimination and unemployment because he was an Indian. He sank into alcoholism and the pits of despair. Most people would have given up, but he fought his way out of that pit, became a self-proclaimed "militant teddy bear" with the American Indian Movement, organized and participated in boycotts and demonstrations, became a roadman in the Native American Church and ultimately led the crusade that resulted in federal legislation to protect Native American religious freedom and the use of peyote in religious ceremonies.

Unfortunately, Reuben did not live to see the legislation passed. He died on June 28, 1993, and the legislation was passed the following year. However, having suffered two heart attacks and having kidney failure secondary to diabetes, he knew that he was dying and prepared. He recorded his story during the final two months of his life. It is told here in his own words -- words to touch your heart and soul and stir you deep inside.

This is the man who took on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with only a tiny rowboat. He loved to joke that he was the "Rear Admiral of the Winnebago Navy." It is no surprise that he became the Winnebago Tribal Councilman. He had heart and courage, combined with humility and compassion, all buffered by a great sense of humor and a love of humanity.

Reuben Snake, Your Humble Serpent is one of the better Native American biographies about recent individuals. There is not a slow point anywhere between the covers. Reuben's unique style and charisma will keep you enthralled. This book is a keeper!

Jay C. Fikes is an anthropologist who worked with Reuben Snake to overturn the Supreme Court ruling against the Native American Church. He has been an active educator, speaker, consultant and advocate for Native Americans for more than a decade.

book review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

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