About The Red Thunder Oral History Project

The Red Thunder Inc. cultural organization and anti-mining campaign has a long history that we invite you to learn about by engaging with the material on this website.

The Red Thunder Oral History Project was born on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in November of 2013, when academic psychologist and Native American Studies professor Joseph P. Gone was invited by the Native American Student Association to speak on a faculty panel on indigenous environmental issues. Dr. Gone shared the history of his own father's, Joseph Azure's, core participation in a grassroots fight against mining at the Ft. Belknap Indian Reservation in the 1990s. The following year, in 2014-15, Dr. Gone was in residence as the Katz Family Chair in Native American Studies at Montana State University in Bozeman. There, he had the generous support of the Native American Studies Program and the Program Head, Dr. Walter Fleming, to convene a panel on Red Thunder and to screen the documentary protest film, Indian Tears of Love, created by Red Thunder member Ali Zaid. Panel members were Red Thunder participants Joe W. Azure, Ali Zaid, and Mike Gopher, son of the now deceased Red Thunder spiritual Adviser Robert Gopher. That convening created such energy that Joe Gone and his partner, the historical researcher, Tiya Miles, proposed to Joe W. Azure that the history of Red Thunder and the group's successful battle to end cyanide heap leach mining in an effort to protect sacred places in the Little Rocky Mountains should be collected and recorded for the purposes of student and public education. Red Thunder event flier

After much thought and spiritual reflection, Joe W. Azure agreed to support an oral history project, which was formally launched in Montana in July of 2016. The first convening of this project brought together the original Red Thunder organizers, a Ft. Belknap Tribal Council member and activist from the period, relatives of activists and of spiritual adviser Robert Gopher, historians, environmental studies scholars, and religious studies scholars from the University of Michigan, the University of Montana, and Michigan State University, and their families to share memories and information about relationships with the land at Ft. Belknap, mining in the mountains there, and the fight against mining. The Red Thunder Culture Camp and Environmental History Workshop took place in Havre, MT, at Ft. Belknap, MT, in the Little Rocky Mountains, and in Zortman, MT over three inspiring summer days. The group that came together at that time began to work as a loose collective to record and share information as well as the lessons of that grassroots indigenous and multiracial environmental struggle; to produce new thinking, research and writing on the topic; and to encourage the teaching of the Red Thunder case study as well as indigenous environmental histories in classrooms at the secondary and college levels. The gathering was organized by Joe Gone, Joe W. Azure, and Tiya Miles, with the essential assistance of University of Michigan College of Literature, Science & the Arts financial administrators and events coordinator: Judy Gray, Keaten North, and Shannon Davis.


In October of 2016, members of the Red Thunder Oral History Project collective Joe W. Azure, Joe Gone (University of Michigan), and Rosalyn LaPier (University of Montana) were joined by scholars Tim LeCain (Montana State University), Patty Loew (University of Wisconsin-Madison), and Nancy Langston (Michigan Technical University) on a round table panel at the Western Historical Association Conference in St. Paul, MN. The session was organized by Tiya Miles; the session topic was mining and grassroots activism in Native communities. Other collective members in attendance were Connie Azure of the Warriors of the 21st Century Program at Ft. Berthold, ND, David Cournoyer of Plain Depth LLC in St. Paul, MN, and Dylan Nelson of the University of Michigan.

In the fall of 2016, University of Michigan undergraduate Dylan Nelson (Department of History) and University of Michigan graduate student Joe Gaudet (Department of American Culture, Program in Native American Studies), conducted archival research at the Montana Historical Society related to the Red Thunder Oral History Project.

The collaborative group’s next projects include the completion of this Red Thunder teaching website that you are now perusing, the support of the creation of a Red Thunder activist's website that will focus on spiritual issues, an undergraduate honors thesis by University of Michigan student Dylan Nelson, explorations of the religious meanings of the campaign by Michigan State University doctoral candidate Shanti Zaid, and longer term writing projects.

The Red Thunder Oral History Project was made possible by the Office for Research (MCubed Program); Department of American Culture; Department of Psychology; Native American Studies Program; and College of Literature, Science and the Arts, all at the University of Michigan; and by the MacArthur Foundation.


Many of the attendees at the Red Thunder oral history session, day 2, from left to right & back to front: Dave Beck, Tiya Miles, Adrian Shawl, Mike Gopher,  Joe Gone, Shanti Zaid, Karen Robertson, Rosalyn LaPier, Dylan Nelson, (f) Mike Gopher, Warren Matt, Ali Zaid, Joe W. Azure


Joseph W. Azure, Founder and organizer, Red Thunder

Dave Beck, Professor, Department of History and Native American Studies, University of Montana

Joseph Gaudet, graduate student, Department of American Culture, Native American Studies Program, University of Michigan

Joseph P. Gone, Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan

Rosalyn LaPier, Associate Professor, Environmental Studies Program, University of Montana

Tiya Miles, Professor, Department of American Culture, Native American Studies Program, University of Michigan

Dylan Nelson, graduate, Department of History, Native American Studies Program, University of Michigan

Karen Robertson, organizer, Red Thunder

Ali Zaid, organizer & videographer, Red Thunder

Shanti Zaid, Dual Doctoral Candidate in Anthropology and African American & African Studies, Michigan State University

Azure family photo taken after the Red Thunder Oral History Project final dinner, Havre, MT.

Azure family photo taken after the Red Thunder Oral History Project final dinner in Havre, MT, July 2016. Adults, left to right: Tiya Miles, Joe Gone, Joe W. Azure, Lauryl Azure, Connie Azure, Anthony Azure; Children left to right: Bryson, Nali, Noa, Janice, Sylvan. Joe W. Azure was a founder and the president of Red Thunder Inc.; Connie Azure, his daughter, served as secretary for the grassroots organization while she was still a teen. Joe Gone, Joe W. Azure's eldest son and an academic psychologist, and Tiya Miles, Joe Gone's spouse and a public historian, serve as joint principal investigators for the Red Thunder Oral History Project.

Red Thunder Oral History Project Co-Principal Investigators:
Tiya Miles and Joseph Gone

Red Thunder Oral History Project Web Designer & Developer:
Tresa Horney