Rolling Thunder,
Rolling Thunder Speaks: A Message for Turtle Island
(Clear Light, 1999)

Have you ever wondered what happens when a Medicine Man goes through airport security checkpoints? Your answer is here, in Rolling Thunder Speaks: A Message for Turtle Island. Rolling Thunder (RT, aka John Pope) will put you on the floor rolling when he tells his story about the lady at the airport making him empty his medicine bag until he got to the snake. Now you know how to speed things along at the airport.

If you are not familiar with RT, he was a highly controversial intertribal Medicine Man, of the Cherokee Paint Clan, of great fame during the 1960s and '70s. He traveled the world speaking of peace and the union of all mankind. He was an outspoken activist for native rights and he rocked boats everywhere, to the point that he had a constant CIA entourage. The government appreciated him so much that they sent him a personal armed force to surround his home in Nevada for the duration of the Wounded Knee siege. Perhaps they thought one Cherokee at Wounded Knee was enough.

RT was definitely high profile in the media and the arts world. He had the Rolling Thunder album, produced by Mickey Hart; Uncle John's Band, a tribute by Jerry Garcia; the Rolling Thunder Revue by Bob Dylan; and the Billy Jack movies, which were based upon true events from his life.

RT dreamed of setting up a community where the people lived in harmony with themselves and the world around them. He purchased 262 acres outside Carlin, Nevada, and began Meta Tantay, a traditional native community, which was the hot spot of the late 1970s and early 1980s until his beloved wife, Spotted Fawn, passed away. Then he began a downhill spiral from which he never recovered physically. This book is his message to the world. He recorded tapes of his life and his wife, for the final decade of his life, transcribed them into this manuscript.

Included are anecdotes from more than 40 years of treating people, herbal remedies, instructions for personal care of body, mind and spirit; a little bit of history and the state of crisis that Native Americans face; and RT's teachings about native spirituality.

I especially like his explanation for why the Cherokee women do not support women's lib. I wish everybody would read this. However, I must, in all fairness, point out that he should have been specific that the situation with the Cherokees was not duplicated throughout the American Indian population. This is the only thing that I disagreed with in the entire book. He was speaking about how the women are treated and he should have considered that of the 500 nations, there were many that did not share the Cherokee views. Otherwise, I agree totally and loved everything he wrote.

Rolling Thunder Speaks is exactly that -- a Cherokee elder and medicine man calling things like he saw them. His views were often controversial and not exactly welcomed by the status quo, but they were embraced around the world. Get this book and you will understand why he became an icon. Besides, this is one funny guy.

Rolling Thunder passed away on Jan. 23, 1997. The Native American community lost one of its strongest voices.

book review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

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