Liz's Reviews > Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux

Black Elk Speaks by Nicholas Black Elk
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Jan 05, 11

bookshelves: life-history
Read in September, 2010

At first glance, this is an interesting book, though personally not particularly my favorite topic. But if you look further into the book, there are just too many discrepancies between Black Elk's life and the story that is written. In writing a life-history it is very important to take into consideration the producer (Neihardt) and the process, in order to understand the product. Neihardt sought Black Elk because Neihardt was writing an epic poem, and he needed to talk to an old spiritual leader that was alive during the Battle of the Little Horn and the Massacre of Wounded Knee, and who danced in the Ghost Dances. He had no interest in creating a life-history, that developed after the first meeting. They had a good relationship, but it was obvious they each had their own intentions, which were not the same. Neihardt wrote this "life-history" of Black Elk only up to the Massacre of Wounded Knee...but that was hardly the end of Black Elk's life. Neihardt poetically alters the wording so that Black Elk is perceived as this guilt-ridden "pitiful old man," who regrets his inability to fulfill his vision of saving his nation, but in reality, he is only 28, and only one part of his life is revealed, which is decided by Neihardt. Black Elk converted to Christianity, became Nicholas Black Elk, and became a very influential catechist...but this entire part was left out. Some argue Black Elk converted out of necessity, but it seems that he full heartedly embraced the spirituality of Christianity, and found many similarities between Christianity and Lakota religion. Neihardt might have had good intentions, but I believe his own reasons behind writing this life-history overshadow the life-history itself, and therefore is wrongfully denoted as Black Elk's life history. I would recommend reading DeMallie's The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk's Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt in follow-up to Black Elk Speaks.
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