A Conversation with David Matheson

All people are equal. War at just any cost is insanity; but peace at all costs is slavery.

You have written a moving memoir of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe in Northern Idaho, originally known as the Schi'tsu'umsh people. Why did you decide to write the story?

I am a member of the Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe. Over the years, I’ve served as a Council Leader and the Tribal Chairman and manager of various tribal operations. I practice the teachings of my tribe in my everyday life as the owner of a successful business. I feel that our tribal practices have served me well, and I would like to share this knowledge with others in the hopes of fostering stronger faith, courage, and togetherness. The deep and sincere feelings with which our ancestors conducted their lives, tradition and culture is the story within me that was crying to be written. The functional aspects of our native ceremonial life can only be truly understood through appreciation of the great degree of kindness, humility, and faith with which our ancestors lived their everyday lives.

So, why did you decide to write your story in novel form?

I wanted to capture the essence of our authentic traditions and customs, our principles, and teachings. Our tribe has a long-standing oral tradition, and I felt the most effective way to bring these teachings to life was through the power of story. The backdrop to the story is part of our genuine oral history regarding the life and times of our great prophet chief Circling Raven.

What is RED THUNDER about?

The book is a story of harmony: man’s harmony with the natural world; peace and unity of purpose with a Higher Power; and understanding all of life and oneself in it. I feel it is a story much of the world is ready for—even yearning for.

Is that why you feel it is so important to share this story with people outside your tribe?

Yes. And also I realize that even 500 years after Columbus, many Americans still do not know who America’s first inhabitants were or who they are in our midst today. They know so little about our unique, beautiful culture. The world could learn much from it.

How is this story, set in the 1700s, relevant to today’s world?

In RED THUNDER, I follow several generations of this family band from birth and youth to adulthood, old age, and death. These four cycles of the circle of life are clearly depicted by telling their stories.

Life is not certain, or even promised to anyone. These people live life, laugh, and learn. But, they also struggle, they work, and they confront life’s tragedies. They do this with tears like any human being may, but also with hope, faith, and courage.

In this way, the reader comes closer to the true meaning of life according to our Native cultural understandings. These meanings are not spelled out for the reader. They are between the lines, to be deciphered by individuals as they contemplate the book and their own lives.