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Lessons Of The Medicine Wheel
An Interview with Marcus Red Thunder:
Admissions Coordinator - Thunder Cloud Rehabilitation Center
(July 20, 1998)



Meet Marcus Red Thunder

Marcus Red Thunder, a Cree Indian, is a man who has taken the challenges of life and faced them head on, turning adversity into a life's path. Marcus grew up in Montana, raised by a single mother and never knowing his father. When he was eight, his mother died and he was shifted from aunt to uncle before arriving at an orphanage where he would grow up. At 16 he went to live with a Catholic priest, who eventually adopted Marcus two years later.

Marcus showed a natural scholastic aptitude in High School and entered the University of Notre Dame on a full academic scholarship after graduation. But after a promising first semester, Marcus fell victim to substance abuse and ended up dropping out of college when the problem became too difficult to manage. Marcus found help through his father and a treatment clinic and managed to get his life back on track. During this process he became interested in the people who helped him better himself and decided to explore the field for himself. He began working at the Thunder Cloud center in Sheridan, Wyoming, as a weekend supervisor on the graveyard shift. This led him to study to be a drug and alcohol counsellor, and once certified he worked as a counsellor at the center. Marcus worked as a counsellor for about 2 1/2 years before moving into his current marketing and PR position, a position that he believes is the path he wants to be on.


Interview Excerpts

Finding A Path
Balanced Life
Origin of a Philosophy
Teachings of the Medicine Wheel
My Personal Success
Complacency and Stagnation
Taking Time Out
Accepting Differences


quoteSo I paid my dues and now I'm doing what I really enjoy doing.

Finding A Path

I kind of fell into my path but I wanted to be involved in this field. Growing up around drugs and alcohol, that's what I knew. I wanted to better my life and my children's. Because with Native Americans there is a real viscous cycle of poverty, a viscous cycle of addiction. So that moved me right into this role. I didn't want to be a counselor, but then I kind of figured that there were a lot of people who have been in the position to help me out in my life... I don't want to make out like am a martyr or something, but I wanted to give something back. I thought maybe I would do it for two or three years at the most, that all I wanted to do it and then I'd start to look for something else. I tried it, this is what I did, and then I wanted to move into more of a business, because that's what I really want to do. Business, marketing , PR ... that's what I'm really doing now. So I paid my dues and now I'm doing what I really enjoy doing. Now I do a lot of marketing to tribes, a lot of programs.

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quote It's how you speak to people, how you treat them, how you dress, how you conduct yourself, how you raise your children, it's all of that. It's in everything, not just in one part of our life.

Balanced Life

[As a counsellor] I don't really preach sobriety, I preach a holistic living, a balanced lifestyle. We talk about our Creator or God, but not only just in the spiritual. We separate God and our lives a lot in the modern society. God is just one day out of the week for just one hour where we pay our dues. Where this way [in a balanced life] it's more of him being with us 24-7. It's not only when you're going to church. Or for Native Americans I tell them it's not only when you're going to a sweat lodge. He's not only there when you're going to a sun dance. He's in every part of your life. It's how you speak to people, how you treat them, how you dress, how you conduct yourself, how you raise your children, it's all of that. It's in everything, not just in one part of our life. That's what I try to promote as a counsellor. It's a holistic approach, living a really strong balanced life. Not taking it to an extreme on one side or the other.

A balanced life is like a [Native American] medicine wheel, it has four spokes going to the center. I was taught that reflected in that is two roads, two positives and their negatives. And if you take a look at it that way, the center is where you want to be, that balance is what you need. The negative is not so bad all the time, we need some of that. But if you get too far into it, it isn't healthy. The same with the positive. You get too far into that and it isn't healthy. If you get to the point where you feel 'holier than thou' that isn't good. You need to try to achieve that balance.

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quote I started reading about [the medicine wheel] and I read a lot of books about it and I started asking my elders about it and that's where I got the teachings.

Origin of a Philosophy

There is a medicine wheel on top of this mountain [Alt. Highway 14, outside or Dayton, WY] , an ancient medicine wheel. There is no tribe that claims it, but they all respect it. When my wife and I first moved here to Sheridan there was a lot of controversy about that medicine wheel. There were two factions, one was primarily non Native Americans and the others were Native Americans. One faction wanted to commercialize it. They wanted to pave the road up to it and build a visitor center. But the other faction, which was primarily Native Americans, said this is one of our sacred sites. Just leave it the way it is. If you do this it's just going to get desecrated like the Black Hills, the Great Horn Butte [Devil's Tower], Bear Butte, all our sacred sites. When they build centers like this they just become desecrated. So anyway, there was a lot of controversy when I first got here about the medicine wheel. I'd go to different prayer meetings and there would be talk about it. So I started thinking maybe this is trying to tell me something. So I started reading about it and I read a lot of books about it and I started asking my elders about it and that's where I got the teachings. Simple teachings about the medicine wheel.

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quoteYour not alone. You're part of this tribe, this tribe's part of this nation, this nation's part of this world. So how you want your world to be is how you want to live your life.



Teachings of the Medicine Wheel

The medicine wheel looks at how you live your life and tells you that you are not alone within it. What the medicine wheel represents is the whole world, and those four spokes that go to the center are the four basic nations in the world. They call them the sacred colors which are Red, White, Black, and Yellow. And from each one of those nations, the road is their paradigm, their perspective, and they are all part of the world. But they are different. For example, the Native Americans do things a lot different from the White people.

This is the world as I explained it, [Marcus draws one medicine wheel representing the world] and each of these spokes are a nation : red, yellow, black, white. And from here we break it into the nations, for instance here [draws another wheel to represent the Indian Nation] we have just the red nation, we have our own medicine wheel. The reason for this is because of our tribes, that's what these spokes represent and there's not just four there are many. And in the wheel of the tribe each spoke represents the individual and their own paradigm. Their own path or life. And then we break it down to the final one [draws another wheel to represent the individual], and that's you. Your own personal medicine wheel. The same element is in the center of all these ... the same circle, always.

And then you break your wheel down into you own parts of yourself, and you decide that. It can be whatever: your physical, your social, your emotional, intellectual, spiritual, whatever you want in there. But each one of those within itself has its own medicine wheel. And you see the two roads there are positive and negative. And the one that sits in the middle is where we need to strive for, for that balance. And if this is strong and balanced, then that is what you bring into the tribe wheel, because you're part of this. It's one thing to say that "I am part of this tribe", that is only half of it. The other part is to say that "this tribe is part of me". If we can say that second part then you can't remove yourself, because the tribe is part of you. It's the same with spirituality so many times people will say I'm part of this religion, I'm part of God, but that's just the one part. If you can go the second step and say he's part of me then we can't separate ourselves and say well he's over there. So your not alone. You're part of this tribe, this tribe's part of this nation, this nation's part of this world. So how you want your world to be is how you want to live your life. The medicine wheel has a lot to be learned from it.

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quoteIf I do something wrong my kids will point it out, those little guys are smart.

My Personal Success

My personal success comes from my family, my children... I really value my family, my kids, my three boys. Seeing them happy, seeing that cycle of addiction, that cycle of poverty, that cycle of shame that has been passed on through generations, not seeing that in the eyes of my kids is happiness to me. Seeing my boys and they're happy and they're provided for. We're not rich by any means, but we're happy. It's simple. What I get out of my family is peace, happiness, for myself. I also get a lot of guidance, my kids teach me a lot. I've learned a lot about balance and getting things right. If I do something wrong my kids will point it out, those little guys are smart.

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quote If you get complacent, you lose your drive for balance.

Complacency and Stagnation

If you are Native American and went into the reservation success would be more happiness, being content with your family and that they were taken care of. Not really rich or anything like that, just that they were taken care of. It's really simple but yet on the other side of that at times they get complacent with that. Because on the reservation it's really protected, they have their own communities there. Many have their basics provided for and they're happy so they become complacent and they don't strive for more, don't try for continual growth.

This is what my uncle told me: we should try for a balanced journey, balanced life. It's our decision to go in a positive way or a negative way or a balanced way. When you become complacent you become stagnant, in the spiritual part of you or physical or whatever. You can be out of balance. If you get complacent, you lose your drive for balance.

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quoteWhen you don't eat or drink for a couple of days, you find out what's really important in life. It's pretty simple.

Taking Time Out

I think what he [Chris] said was excellent.* Too many time we get caught up in the everyday life that's going by. It's boom, boom, boom. We have to take care of this and take care of that. Things are flying all around. We just need to stop, take a couple days off by yourself, go without water or food and just sit. I don't know if you believe in God, but just sit and take care of yourself and just meditate. Quiet everything down, sort it all out. When you don't eat or drink for a couple of days, you find out what's really important in life. It's pretty simple.

Take time, stop what you're doing. Just stop, take some time out. Even if it's just for an hour, just stop. Stop and reflect on what the hell is going on. Taking that time out is tough. I've been taught that there are two kinds of suffering. There's neurotic suffering and there's existential suffering. And taking time out for yourself, like for fasting, is existential. It's not neurotic. You're doing it for a reason and there's a lot of strength that's going to come out of it. It will teach you. Our elders tell us, they speak in a way that's spiritual, they say if you go out and take time for yourself and pray, that's where you get your protection, for yourself and if you have children, or your spouse, protection for them too. And that's protection from the unseen, or protection for whatever your interactions in everyday life. There are always struggles that are going on. We're never going to learn everything about it, but try to learn a little bit about it and take care of what we need to take care of and you'll be alright.

*Chris mentioned to Marcus before the interview how he has learned and experienced so much during the first part of the Quest-4 trip that he needed to take a moment to sit back and assimilate it all. Marcus then suggested Chris embark on a Vision Quest.
You can read about this in the
Travel Journals section in Chris' journal entry entitled "Vision Quest".

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quoteMy ways are different from yours, I'm an Indian and my ways are different, there's no doubt about that. But we see those differences, we accept them, let's move on.

Accepting Differences

The medicine wheel teaches that we are different yet we are one and the same. We need to accept those differences with one and another. My ways are different from yours, I'm an Indian and my ways are different, there's no doubt about that. But we see those differences, we accept them, let's move on. That's what this teaches, many roads, one direction. Call it what you want: Jesus, Allah, God. It's the same. This teaching has been around for thousands of years. And when we tap into it as Native Americans, when we tap into it we have these thousands of years of prayer backing us up. If we can tap into this and get it back into it our lives, there is nothing that can stop us. No matter what we do, whatever we set out to do, if we do it in a good way, we're going to succeed. There are times when we've gotten away from this. We've taken something holy out of the center and we've put in money, put in drugs, put in alcohol, ... each one of them is powerful, yes, but not as powerful as something spiritual. I would recommend living a good balanced life.

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© Copyright Chris Moeller & Brian Ardinger, 1998


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