Kit’s Crit: Black Elk Speaks (Neihardt)

Black Elk

Black Elk Speaks

(John G. Neihardt)

Black Elk was a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux.  He told his life story to a Nebraskan poet called John Neihardt, when he visited the Great Sioux Reservation in the 1930s.  Black Elk Speaks has since become an American classic.

Although this biography records Black Elk’s personal memoir – “My friend, I am going to tell you the story of my life” – it is also an enduring record of the Plains Indians’ belief system.  It describes the Ghost Dancers and the Messiah craze that led to the massacre at Wounded Knee in South Dakota, December 1890.  This battle symbolized the end of the First Nations’ struggle for a return to their old lives: “A people’s dream died there.  It was a beautiful dream.”

Black Elk Speaks is a poignant account of the transition from the ancient spiritual world into the mechanized Twentieth Century.  In his Introduction, Vine Deloria, Jr. explains how the Holy Man “speaks to us with simple and compelling language about an aspect of human experience and encourages us to emphasize the best that dwells within us.”

This is an important, inspirational, historical record.  Highly recommended for readers of all ages.

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