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 Interviews with People Who Make a Difference : Lightningbolt 
Interview with
   as interviewed by Daniel Redwood DC

Hyemeyohsts Storm's classic bestseller, Seven Arrows, first published in 1972 and now in its 45th printing, was among the first books to convey the depth of Native American philosophy to a broad audience. The text of Seven Arrows is a series of teaching stories, in which Hawk, Eagle, Jumping Mouse and dozens of other animals represent the glories and foibles of humanity, as well as the animal, vegetable and mineral domains. Storm's debut book introduced to the modern world the Sacred Medicine Wheels of indigenous America, and played an important role in enhancing cross-cultural awareness. It was also noteworthy for Storm's full-color Medicine Shields, which established him as an artist of the first order.

Storm's new book, Lightningbolt (Ballantine), tells the tale of his own personal journey, from an angry young man who wanted to go to Viet Nam and kill everyone (he was devastated when eye trouble disqualified him), to an elder and teacher. Interwoven with his adventures is a history of the Americas that won't be found in most history books, and a spiritual outlook of great relevance to our present and future challenges.

In this interview with Daniel Redwood, Storm speaks of his life lessons as emblematic of the challenges facing humanity as a whole-the need to overcome poverty without getting hooked on materialism, to honor the Earth and all her creations, to redefine warriorship and to, in the words of the traditional Native teachings, "value life." He is acutely aware of the need to reach out across the boundaries of race, class and nation, and offers a hopeful vision of a better world.

Hyemeyhosts Storm Interview

: What do you feel are the most crucial challenges facing humanity at this time?

HYEMEYOHSTS STORM: The most crucial challenges facing humanity are exactly the same ones that faced me many years ago. I'm going to be 60 in a couple of months. I was one of those mixed-blood people called a Breed, and I came from a place called a reservation, which really is a ghetto, right in the middle of America. My mother married a German, a broken-hearted man who came to America to marry an Indian princess. My brothers and I were products of that marriage. He was a fine man suffering from mustard gas he was exposed to in the First World War. His lungs gave out after a number of years, and that left my mother alone on the reservation. She had too many children to take care of.

The consequence of that was very simple: like a lot of the Indian kids and Breed kids, we were running free, homeless. But fortunately, also being a Breed, a Cheyenne-Sioux-Crow-German-American, I was able to live with the old people. They were the only ones who took us in. We were the outcasts who were taken in by other outcasts. These were Grandmothers and Grandfathers who cared for us and raised us. As a consequence of that we were able to touch the earth, because can you imagine living with a Grandmother or Grandfather? They let you see how things were really called.

DR: And they eased the pain?

HYEMEYOHSTS STORM: I was very heartbroken, and I was typical. I can see myself in the inner city, see the kids' eyes, looking. Being so poverty stricken, I felt always kind of alone and, as I said, angry. So the only hope for me to get out of that was the military. All the men on the reservation at that time were veterans. They had done great things-they were true heroes of America. And also, they had new boots, clothes, all these wonderful things. Shiny cars. Consequently all of us looked forward to one day going into the military.

When I was told that because one eye wasn't good enough, I was 4F, That was the same as if you had put a gun in my mouth and pulled the trigger. I thought there was no other hope for me if I couldn't be in the military. What was I going to do? Where was I going to go?

DR: Where did you do?

HYEMEYOHSTS STORM: All my life I was told about warriors. All the gods are warrior gods. The old Hebrew warrior god, the Christian warrior god, the Hindu warrior god. They were all warriors. Strike you down with lightning, things like that. So what does a warrior do? I went crazy. Not the kind of crazy that puts you in a hospital. But I didn't want anybody to touch me.

DR: How did you recover?

HYEMEYOHSTS STORM: I met a little tiny woman named Estcheemah. She was powerful. She told me, "All of your life you've had nothing, and you've searched to have something." So she took four stones, and put one east, one west, north and south. It was the first Medicine Wheel I had ever seen. She put a stone in the middle, and she said, "See, you are spirit. You have a body. You have a good mind. You have a heart and emotions. You can do anything that you want to. You can teach. You can become a person of power. You can educate yourself."

I was "in ceremony," and those words somehow touched me in my heart. For the first time in my life I really had something. Not just a pickup I could buy, not a gun, not a dog, but something that couldn't be taken away. It was like solid. She said I was strong, and that I was born into life to grow and to learn. It amazed me that I could grow in life and learn, that I could have me,that I could kill me, or teach me or do anything. It was amazing to me, who had never had anything, that now I had something. So this was the beginning of being self-responsible.

There's a lot of people out there, a lot of kids out on the street that have nothing. They have to learn that they should not be sad. They should be glad, because they are all people who can do wondrous things.

DR: Was it particularly important that your teacher Estcheemah was a woman?

HYEMEYOHSTS STORM: No. We don't have that kind of thing on the reservation. That's not an Indian thing. She was medicine woman, a holy woman. There are holy men and holy women, but they're just holy people. It's a funny thing-you can be given the greatest of beings, the greatest of people, and have contempt for them. But I never had contempt for her because she was woman; I had contempt for her because she was like me-she was a nobody, she was a Breed. So you see, she had to get past that, and she did.

She taught me about Power. She taught me that our Earth is not a Being of Death like everyone says. Earth births all the minnows, all the coal, all of the iron, all of the butterflies, all of the eagles, all of the cattle, all of the rice. Everything we eat is birthed by Mother Earth. She gives us everything. It's not that farmers grow it. She grows it! She takes the seeds in the ground.

So I began to see that there was something alive. It took many years for me to see this. I'm nearly 60, and this was when I was a teenager. I didn't have complicated things on my mind back then. At that time I was just young and stupid.

DR: What complicated things do you have on your mind today?

HYEMEYOHSTS STORM: Complicated things like, "How am I going to pay my taxes?" I didn't have taxes then. I only had survival. Complicated things like, "How do I get from point A to point B and be strong?" In those days, I just wanted to get from point A to point B and not be killed. You're a doctor, but there may be people reading this who are on the streets and are not a doctor. You don't worry about how you're going to be able to eat. I did worry about where I was going to eat. Your questions come two ways at me. One is more abstract. You have not been hungry.

DR: That's true.

HYEMEYOHSTS STORM: But you have been hungry spiritually.

DR: That's also true.

HYEMEYOHSTS STORM: Whereas many have not. But we had the Beauty. We could see the Dance. That's the way it is for a lot of Native people. We were kids running around in the Dance of Creation of Mother Earth. Maybe it's like a kid in a ghetto running in and out, among people who love and cherish creation. They have that consciousness of that spirit. But they're hungry physically. You, you're the opposite. You had a lot of food, but you didn't have anybody with Big Medicine like that. So our world is like that. What I have is a mixed-blood message. I'm a mixed-blood person, a Breed. Maybe you're a Breed. Maybe lots of people are Breeds. Most of us in America are not purebred anything-not a purebred German, Japanese, or whatever.

DR: So you were neither here nor there, and you had to invent a new "here?"

HYEMEYOHSTS STORM: No, I didn't have to invent a new here, because here is where we are, Earth. I had to find where here was, and that is what you are trying to do. You can work with people but you don't know why they're healed. Mother Earth does the healing. Mother Earth does the killing also.

We are born Spirit. Spirit means 'dead.' People die to go back to Spirit. So when we talk about Spirit we're talking about death. We live here, and then we die to go back to the spirit world.

. DR: Yes.

HYEMEYOHSTS STORM: A lot of people aren't told that. While you're here in this life, a little bit of time, not very long, you have to learn why you are here, what your challenges are. You have to find yourself in all of that complicated matter. That's what I talk about. I talk about how do you find yourself.

DR: In Lightningbolt, you wrote about about the Democracy of the Mind and the Circle of Law. What are these, and how are they relevant to people in our time?

HYEMEYOHSTS STORM: I learned about the Circle of Law in an amazing way. When I was very young I heard about the Circle of Law, and of course, the older I grew the more complicated and sophisticated it became. As you know, democracy was born, practically, in the minds of the people of America. American Indians are very democratic. In their minds, you know what I mean? They never did learn about kings and princes and all of that.

B>DR: Chiefs were something different?

HYEMEYOHSTS STORM: Leaders. Chiefs were leaders. You didn't have King Such-and-Such or Queen Such-and-Such in a tribe. At first, I couldn't understand the complications of it. A lawyer is going to see it differently than a kid who's got a pea-shooter in his hand, or some kid who's holding an Uzi, when they read these words that you're going to write. Everybody sees it differently.

Basically what Estcheemah told me was: Look, you practice every day being a bully, and you practice every day being angry about being alive. What if you practiced every day being a leader? What if you practiced every day being a healer? What if you practiced every day being a powerful man? And I realized that just like a basketball player, or someone playing the piano, or someone wanting to jump the highest, that I could practice being who I was every day.

Now young people need to hear this: In the old Indian world they taught you to practice being who you are. In other words, I wouldn't try to practice being you, because I don't know how to be you. But I can practice being me. This builds in my mind the Circle of Law, and this law is a natural law.

Law means: How do I interact with people? How do I interact with life? Law isn't something that's written by God or written in a book, that says, "I must do that." There is no way for any country to have enough police to totally police people. Ninety percent of all human beings are law-abiding people. That's why they can function.

DR: So the desire to stay within the law comes from within the self.

HYEMEYOHSTS STORM: Human beings interact with the law because it's natural to them. I don't kill you because I don't want to kill you, because it doesn't further me to kill you. Killing you would make me stupid and lonely. It's not because of a law that I don't kill you. It's born inside. It's an agreement with the Self. That's the Circle of Law.

DR: If you were going to sum up the main differences between the traditional Native American worldview and that of contemporary America or Western civilization, what would you say they are?

HYEMEYOHSTS STORM: A lot of people have asked me that, and it is a complicated question. Basically what we have done is we have taken a lot of people in the world, especially the poor, and we say, "You can have all these things, but you cannot have them." Then we take another group of people, like you, and we say, "You can be free, but you can't be free." In other words, there's a lot of manipulation. The television says, "You can buy all these things," but the fact is that even a wealthy person cannot buy them all.

It sets up a very negative situation which goes back to what I told you about when I was a young boy on a reservation. My mom wanted me to have these things, but I couldn't because she was too poor. A kid doesn't say, "Oh well, this is psychological and it will pass." No, he just hurts. So consequently, when I would meet any of my cousins, or my brothers, I wasn't happy to see them. I wanted to beat them up. We would be instantly into arguments. Why? Because he was poor and I was poor. We were all poor, and we didn't know what what was valuable, we didn't know what was wondrous.

So these chiefs that you're asking about, these traditional chiefs, they say, "Value life." Start by valuing your life. What's happening in a lot of our cities is that people do not know how to value life. There are a lot of fools who are trying to tell them what life is, and they're trying to say that life is sidewalks, life is buildings, life is a Maserati, life is a machine gun, life is seeing how much stuff you can blow up your nose. That's not life!

Life, the valuing of life, is the chance for a person to live and do something wondrous. That's what the traditional chiefs say. They say, value yourself. Don't listen to those people saying to you that Earth is dead matter. She births the trees, she births the butterflies, she birthed you, she births the gold, she births everything. She is not dead matter and you are not dead matter. So love Mother Earth. That's basically what the tradition is: Love Mother Earth. Value your life.

Now all of the traditionals didn't talk directly to me. Estcheemah taught it to me. She represented them. Who was she? She was a Zero Chief, one of the most powerful and secretive people in America. Some people say, "Well how is it that it's secret? How come people don't know about it?" Native people in America know about it. Why? Remember back in the sixties when a lot of people in America and Europe were shocked to find out that there was such a thing as acupuncture?

DR: Yes.

HYEMEYOHSTS STORM: These things are not secret. But were, and are, the Zero Chiefs, a secret in America? Of course. Because they had to protect themselves.

DR: Is this a different time in America?

HYEMEYOHSTS STORM: No. I'm here. They are here. Historically, in this country the right wing and people who hated Indians were pretty evident and very strong and had power. Luckily for us, a lot of that is in the past. But there are still a lot of people who are not very tolerant.

DR: Are you concerned that things are turning for the worse now?

HYEMEYOHSTS STORM: No. Every generation believes that things are turning for the worse. If you were part of the Second World War, millions of people died, m-i-l-l-i-o-n-s! You see the thing is, every generation has a challenge. A lot of people stood up and were counted at that time, and a lot of them died. And millions died in Vietnam. I was one of the people who wanted to go over there and "swat bugs"-they weren't alive to me. Estcheemah taught me that those people are people. It was very difficult at that time for me to get it in my mind that those people, the Communists, were people. I was one of the John Wayne types, I thought our country could do no wrong.

DR: Despite what it had done to Native Americans?

HYEMEYOHSTS STORM: I eventually learned that you can't just go stomping on people like that. So now I'm a chief of a different kind of medicine. I believe that the kind of warrior we need is one that is brave enough to be a healer, brave enough to build a brand new world, brave enough to survive all these new things.

So no, I think there's not anything worse. I think it's just a new challenge. I think that we are all learning about this whole new way. We're going to have to save our Earth, because I don't care if you're right wing, left wing, up wing, down wing, middle wing-if we don't get together to save the sacred Mother Earth, it's not going to matter anyway, because no one will survive. The way we are going to do that is by healing ourselves, so that we will be intelligent enough as people that we will manage to not pollute her.

DR: Estcheemah told you to leave a legacy of lightning and nourishing rain. Is that what you're doing?

HYEMEYOHSTS STORM: Yes, that's who I am. It's kind of paradoxical that my name is Storm.

DR: Storm clears the air, yes?


DR: What are your plans for the near future?

HYEMEYOHSTS STORM: I am on tour. My wife and I are invited to many universities, 22 countries, many states and cities. To support ourselves, we arrange some paying events, but we always also arrange free things, talking in bookstores, speaking to teachers and educators in the inner city, meeting mixed-blood people, and so we do it all, reaching out in friendship.

DR: I want to thank you for all that you've given to all of us.

Daniel Redwood is a chiropractor, writer and musician who lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He is the author of A Time to Heal: How to Reap the Benefits of Holistic Health (A.R.E. Press), and is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. He can be reached by e-mail at

©1996 Daniel Redwood, D.C.
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 About The Author
Daniel Redwood, DC, is a Professor at Cleveland Chiropractic College - Kansas City. He is editor-in-chief of Health Insights Today ( and serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of the......moreDaniel Redwood DC
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