While working for the Menninger Foundation in 1971, Doug Boyd met Rolling Thunder, a spiritual leader of the Cherokee and Shoshone tribes. About the shaman, Boyd wrote, "Each day it was becoming clearer to me that Rolling Thunder was a teacher who could offer me insights that I could never achieve in the laboratory or discover in the library."
One day during lunch, Rolling Thunder explained the Indian's view of chaos through ecological imbalance.
"When you have pollution in one place, it spreads all over. It spreads just as arthritis or cancer spreads in the body. The earth is sick now because the earth is being mistreated, and some of the problems that may occur, some of the natural disasters that might happen in the near future are only the natural readjustments that have to take place to throw off sickness. A lot of things are on this land that don't belong here. They're foreign objects like viruses or germs. Now, we may not recognize the fact when it happens, but a lot of the things that are going to happen in the future will really be the earth's attempt to throw off some of these sicknesses. This is really going to be like fever or like vomiting, what you might call a physiological adjustment.
"It's very important for people to realize this. The earth is a living organism, the body of a higher individual who has a will and wants to be well, who is at times less healthy or more healthy, physically and mentally. People should treat their own bodies with respect. It's the same thing with the earth. Too many people don't know that when they harm the earth they harm themselves, nor do the realize that when they harm themselves they harm the earth...
"It's not very easy for you people to understand these things because understanding is not knowing the kind of facts that your books and teachers talk about. I can tell you that understanding begins with love and respect. It begins with respect for the Great Spirit, and the Great Spirit is the life that is in all things -- all the creatures and the plants and even the rocks and the minerals. All things -- and I mean all things -- have their own will and their own way, their own purpose; this is what is to be respected.
"Such respect is not a feeling or an attitude only. It's a way of life. Such respect means that we never stop realizing and never neglect to carry out our obligation to ourselves and our environment."
Rolling Thunder offers a philospohical or religious basis for contemporary ecological thought. His view is fundamental to understanding Native American belief systems. Certainly, there are sound scientific reasons supporting the various ecology movements, and for scientific minds that may be enough. However, integrating both views may ultimately prove more reliable and productive than choosing one or the other.