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

Black Elk Speaks by Black Elk
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's review
Jul 25, 2011

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Although this work was produced under conditions that make a modern historian cringe (Black Elk to translator to transcriber to editor - decades after the events), it remains a core work for both modern natives and historians alike. Black Elk was one of the most influential natives of his generation and this story, recorded when it was, helped to bridge the gap of knowledge and declining native spirituality across the 'lost generations' of the reservation and boarding school Indians through to the 1960s founders of Red Power movement. Black Elk's beliefs as they were recorded in this work became a core component for this movement and Alvin Josephy used a quotation from Black Elk to begin his foundational compendium "Red Power". (Intriguingly in the quotation he used, Josephy mistranslated 'Wasichus' as "white men," which Black Elk made clear meant "other" or "outsider" and did not connote a specific race.) Black Elk was one of the few survivors of the Battle of Wounded Knee, which became a rallying cry for the Indians of the 1960s, thus giving his story even more weight and purpose for the modern generations. For historians this work flawed as it is, still provides valuable insight into topics for which first person narratives are difficult to find, and it is a very in depth view into an otherwise hidden world of the importance of dreams, coming of age, and spiritual beliefs and practices. This should be a must read for all Native Americans and Native American Historians.
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