As the end of the Indian wars approached in the wake of Wounded Knee, the Indians had only two choices, little different from the ones they faced at the opening of negotiations over the Badlands territory: assimilate or die. He was twenty-seven when he escaped the massacre at Wounded Knee.
Pine Ridge Jesuits praised him as an Indian heir to the Apostle Paul, rescuing his people from sin and damnation. He died in in a simple cabin on the Pine Ridge Reservation, in what is now the poorest area in the United States. It has been translated into at least a dozen languages and is a regular entry on college history and religion syllabi. Young Indians, who for generations had been shamed and taught to despise their history, also embraced the book as an invaluable record of how pre-reservation Lakota proudly lived and believed.
Neihardt bumped across the South Dakota prairie in his Gardner in search of an Indian holy man to interview. These and subsequent visions are filled with natural imagery: rainbows, animals, and plants are all imbued with spiritual significance. Black Elk Speaks is a compelling work of literature. But to identify its specific religious teachings is difficult. Black Elk revisits the battles with the U. This is one reason why the book has proven so controversial: Black Elk portrays himself as a mystic warrior defending Indian tradition, foreseeing and foretelling the future of his people, while also fighting alongside them in defense of their rights and, when the Sun Dance and medicine men were outlawed on the reservation, carrying on with both.
Because Black Elk Speaks ends where it does, these acts of indigenous protest seem to be the end of the story. The other chief criticism of Black Elk Speaks concerns the way it was written. This is where Jackson begins his study, with Neihardt, poet and ethnographer, bumping across the South Dakota prairie in his Gardner in search of an Indian holy man to interview for an epic poetry cycle Neihardt was then working on.
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The collaboration would prove life-changing for both men. The old Indian welcomed the interviews.
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Throughout May , the quartet labored, while Lakota elders often listened in to ensure accuracy. Yet could such a process really capture the meaning and rhythms of the Lakota language? Neihardt, others claimed, took advantage of Black Elk, inducing him to trade his holy wisdom for personal financial gain. Clatterbuck is also, as it happens, my brother-in-law.
It skillfully reconstitutes Black Elk as a testament to the ways in which ancient cosmologies can be merged and revitalized to form a new, more resilient brand of modernized religious tradition. The Lakota—and all Native Americans, for that matter—were in syncretic cultural contact with outside influences for centuries, from settlers to trappers to missionaries.
Millions of Old World devotees of the Wild West shows gulped down this bowdlerized version of Indian lore, commodified for Anglo and European consumption. Likewise, the Black Elk that Jackson shows us is no defeated old Indian. Jackson writes:. Too many secrets had been lost in the national slaughter.
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Truth did not reside in a gun. Black Elk saw it early, though he never used such dystopian terms. Seen like that, his life is more than just another tale of Indian versus white. John Francis Ficara. Joseph Francis John Baluta. The Book of the Twelve B guines. John Francis Van Ruysbroeck Jan. Francis John Kean. The Diocese of Fort Wayne. Popular Tales of the West Highlands. John Francis Campbell.
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