Purification sweat lodge fire Photo © John Veltri
KARUK MEDICINE MAN / CEREMONIAL LEADER / CULTURE BEARER
CHARLIE "RED HAWK" THOM
Karuk medicine man Charlie "Red Hawk" Thom (1928-2013) Photo © Marguerite Lorimer
Káruk medicine man - ceremonial leader Charles R Thom (also Charlie "Red Hawk" Thom) (1928-2013) whose medicine name was Walking Backwards, was born to Reece Tom (later changed to Thom) and Irene (Charlie) Thom in Fort Jones, California. When he was only two years old Charlie's parents passed away. Hidden from Indian Boarding School authorities by the elders of his tribe, Charlie was raised to be a medicine man. From a young age he was taught traditional Káruk values and life skills, including cultural teachings and ceremonial practices, plant medicine, sacred songs, dances and healing methods.
At the age of 15, as was custom at the time, Charlie "bought" his first wife with a little jar of gold he had accumulated from panning during his childhood. A medicine woman who was 27 years older than Charlie, his wife already had two children. Within months of his marriage, Charlie forged the date of his birth so that he could serve in WWII. He was soon shipped off to the Far East. While he was gone, he was relieved to receive a "Dear John" letter from his wife, who had decided to leave Charlie for his older brother.
After the war, Charlie became a logger. He worked in that profession for years, until a severe injury ended his logging career. He then worked as a drug and alcohol counselor until the 1970s, when he became a professor of Native Studies at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California. In 1979 he suddenly left that career to follow a prophecy that he had been told about when he was a young boy: if Mount Shasta should ever wake up [he said he was told that she was beginning to vent steam], he should leave his job, move to the mountain, put down some prayers to quiet the mountain down [it worked, he said], then build a purification sweat lodge and "open its door to all people". If he did that, he was told, people would come from all over the world, and there would be a great healing.
Known to be a notorious "trickster" or "coyote", Charlie was also a respected Káruk culture bearer, wisdom carrier, environmental advocate and sacred site protector for more than 45 years. A legendary ceremonial leader, thousands of people from religions and cultures around
the world fondly remember Charlie as a powerful purification sweat lodge leader
whose healing ceremonies forever affected their lives.
Charlie Thom, 1983 Photo © John Veltri
One of only a few fluent Káruk language speakers toward the end of his life, Charlie loved his ancestral language and delighted in speaking Káruk whenever the occasion arose. A participant in Káruk language symposiums, workshops and teachings, he was honored to be featured in National Geographic's "Vanishing Languages" article.
A natural in politics, Charlie was instrumental in getting official federal recognition for his Káruk tribe, a catalyst in the legalization of Native American ceremonies, and a powerful protector of natural resources and sacred sites. His tireless work with Winnemem Wintu chief Florence Jones, and others, including the Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center, helped to save Mount Shasta from becoming a commercial ski resort.
Charlie Thom, next to his Shackleford Creek purification sweat lodge, in Fort Jones, California, 2012 Photo © Marguerite Lorimer
Although Charlie's busy schedule frequently kept him away from his Fort Jones, California home, his greatest joys were when he traveled into the nearby Marble Mountains, and the times he spent with members of his large, extended family - especially the young people of his tribe.
WATCH CHARLIE'S "PRAYER FOR THE WHOLE WORLD" VIDEO (above)
Charlie "Red Hawk" Thom, at home in 2012 with his "pet" buffalo, featured by National Geographic in their article, "Vanishing Languages"
In 2013, Charlie Thom shared his "Last Message" for the Káruk people (above).
Though his hearing and overall health were failing, he felt it was important that his people hear his message and sacred song.
Spoken in Káruk and translated into English by his son, Káruk language teacher Franklin R Thom