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Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  11,523 Ratings  ·  556 Reviews
Black Elk Speaks is a 1932 book by John G. Neihardt, an American poet & writer, who relates the story & spirituality of Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota medicine man. It was based on conversations by Black Elk with the author & translated from Lakota into English by Black Elk's son, Ben Black Elk, who was present during the talks. Neihardt transformed his notes to c ...more
Paperback, 299 pages
Published 1961 by University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln) (first published 1932)
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Michael
This is a haunting and moving transcription of interviews with the revered medicine man Black Elk of the Oglala band of the Lakota Sioux in 1930 at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The editor, John Neihart, was a poet who was writing an epic poem about Messiah movement in the 1880’s among diverse Plains Indians and was seeking Black Elk’s perspective. Black Elk, then in his mid-60s, reflects back on a life spent trying to heal his people as a whole, not just individuals with medical p ...more
Tim
Dec 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was inspired of John Neihardt to get Black Elk to tell him his life story. It’s hard to believe anyone could have told better the story of the Lakota Nation’s demise as an autonomous, proud, wise, communal, deeply spiritual and sometimes brutal culture. Black Elk lived through the so-called “Fetterman Massacre”, the battle of the Little Big Horn and the massacre at Wounded Knee. He even participated in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and visited Paris and London where he met Queen Victoria who ...more
Joan DeArtemis
This was my third time reading this book, and every time I come away with something new. I highly recommend this to anyone studying religion. I highly recommend this book to every single American citizen. It should be required reading in public schools. The Lakota people have a vibrant, exciting, living religious tradition, and the fact that Black Elk's story was recorded is a gem and a blessing. Not only is it because of the religious tradition is this book important. It is also important becau ...more
Christy
Dec 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this years ago when I first started teaching an undergraduate "global ethics" class, and knew it was the likely the best source of Lakota (American Plains Indian tribe) philosophy and worldview. Black Elk believed that humans would not be Good if they weren't connected to each other and to the universe. Unless we knew and practiced a "oneness of humanity" (to borrow a phrase from the Baha'i' faith - a group that once gave me an award for anti-racism work in schools!) the world would more ...more
Barnaby Thieme
John Heihardt's classic is a problematic read to be sure. On the one hand, Neihardt was a sympathetic interlocutor who elicited a fascinating account from an extraordinary man who lived through several major episodes in late-19th-century history. On the other hand, his poetic pretensions led him to rearrange and dress up that testimony, adorning it with his own mediocre neo-Romantic insight, and altogether distorting the historical and cultural record.

Readers of Black Elk Speaks may be surprise
...more
Amy
Feb 11, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Grandfather, Great Spirit, once more behold me on earth and lean to hear my feeble voice. You lived first, and you are older than all need, older than all prayer. All things belong to you --- the two-leggeds, the four-leggeds, the wings of the air and all green things that live. You have set the powers of the four quarters to cross each other. The good road and the road of difficulties you have made to cross; and where they cross the place is holy. Day in and day out, forever, you are the life o ...more
Paul
Jun 11, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, history-us
I read an edition of this book which lists where the contents of Black Elk's telling of this portion of his life was greatly enhanced emotionally and symbolically by Neihardt. Were I not aware of these changes until after reading it, I would feel cheated and as though this book were a fake. Despite these added notes, however, the book is still fantastic, most of the perversion of the text being whiny, emotional additions and romantic lamentations Neihardt adds in his cultural guilt and ethical f ...more
Jimmy
Jan 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: autobiography
An abridged cd with a magnificent reading by Fred Contreras. The other day as I went to a car repair appointment, I arrived all misty-eyed and runny-nosed. Very sad story. Black Elk speaks of the creatures with roots, legs, and wings. I add the creatures that crawl and swim. And any other creatures that are left out. I hope to read the full unabridged version in book form some day so I can copy down a few quotes.

Riding home from my appointment, I noticed the melting snow. The seven-day forecast
...more
Marielle
Jun 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read the Premier Edition, which is wonderfully annotated with historical references and clarifications on the interpretations and additions that are Neihardt's and not in the transcripts of Black Elk's words. I have had this on my "to read" list for years — everything in its time. I read this while in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Black Elk's homeland. It seemed especially powerful to read it in the very hills where he lived and walked, had visions, dreams, and went about the work of a holy ...more
Evelina | AvalinahsBooks
I do not rate, because who rates the truth? How would you even rate it?

If you're American, read this. Know whose land you walk. Know whose children's and women's bodies cover that land. The very least you can do is pay respect to their memory.
C.g. Ayling
Apr 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“History is written by the victors, not by the vanquished.”

Rarely do we have an opportunity to view history from the perspective of the vanquished. “Black Elks Speaks”, by John Neihardt, gives us another window through which we may look at the past. Neihardt’s window shows us a completely different view of history. A view in which honor and dignity belongs not to the victors, but to the vanquished.

“Black Elk Speaks” grants a Lakota medicine man named Black Elk a voice, and every reader an opport
...more
*Giulia*
4.5

Ho ritrovato questo libro tra quelli delle elementari. Ammetto fosse una lettura insolita, ma sono certa che nell’anno in cui la maestra ce lo impose, le madri ne avranno parlato tra loro nei circoli di golf, e allora avranno pensato fosse molto chic per noi leggerlo. Peccato che non l’avessimo mai finito, ho ritrovato il segnalibro a metà. E peccato, che non ne avessi capito una mazza, di sicuro. A distanza di tempo mi son ripromessa di leggerlo di nuovo, e l’ho preso ora per puro caso, per
...more
Leisa

I don't exactly know how to 'star' this book, so I won't.

All of the metaphorical + verbal clichés used relative to the time period this was written in are extremely annoying to read repeatedly & makes this feel even more inauthentic & embellished than I already know it is.
A Native American man who could not speak English would not be speaking in these clichés that were completely foreign to him & his culture. Not only is this annoying to me, it is offensive. Even though Black Elk's
...more
Sophfronia Scott
Jul 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had the tremendous experience of reading this important work while staying in the Black Hills of South Dakota and visiting the Pine Ridge Reservation, both areas described in detail. I also met Black Elk's granddaughter Betty, a noble and kind-hearted woman who welcomes hungry travelers daily for a home-cooked meal in the small restaurant she runs out of her house on the reservation. She told me how her grandfather dictated the book on the property and where he sat under the trees with John Ne ...more
John
Aug 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of the life of the Oglala Sioux holy man and the ways, culture and late 19th century history of his and surrounding Native American tribes. This was told by Black Elk himself to the author. Black Elk had a vision as a young boy while very sick that influenced him throughout his life. The book’s descriptions of his unfolding interpretation of this vision and his experience of the difficult events marking the history of the USA’s relationship with native Americans provides insigh ...more
Alarie
Jul 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
This book has been on my wish list for several years. I finally checked it out of the library. I’ve long been fascinated by the metaphor, imagery, and poetry of Native American myth and legend. That’s why I wanted to read this book, but I also believe we Americans have a responsibility to honor and listen to the heritage of the people we exterminated. History is reported through the eyes of the victors, who discount the cost to the other side.

This is obviously a brutal, violent, and grim story.
...more
Carolyn
Jul 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This expands my knowledge of the Native American culture. Black Elk's vision of the sacred tree and the hoop tend to go along with some of my thoughts. However his vision was from a very masculine perspective and had only little reference to the feminine aspects. Black Elk lived in the time of the battle of The Little Big Horn and the slaughter at Wounded Knee. He went to Europe with Buffalo Bill and met Queen Victoria. His experiences with the Ghost Dance were intriguing. The fact that he ended ...more
Gail
Aug 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a powerful story. Black Elk agreed to interviews with the author, and revealed for the first time a series of visions he had while ill as a 9-year-old child. He carried the weight of the visions for the remainder of his life, and continued to experience visions for most of his adult life. Black Elk describes, with help from some old friends present during some of the interviews, the coming of white settlers to the land held by native Americans, the selling out of some tribal leaders and the ...more
Terry Madden
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's hard to believe that people like Black Elk lived through a span of history that so thoroughly crushed a way of life. He lived from the time of Lakota independence, with bison enough for all and the freedom to travel the land wherever they wished, to the horror of Wounded Knee and the end of a way of life. His story is a microcosm of native destiny. Very powerful reading.
R.G. Phelps
Nov 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Black Elk Speaks is the life story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux. Black Elk tells his story to John G. Neihardt saying early on that it is not the tale of a great hunter or of a great warrior, or of a great traveler; as it is the story of all life that is holy and is good to tell. Black Elk shares the many disappointments in his life caused by the many broken treaties of the Wasichus (A term used to designate the white man, but having no reference to the color of his skin). Black Elk was bor ...more
Laura (booksnob)
John G. Neihardt met Black Elk in 1930. When they met, Black Elk recognized Niehardt as the man he must teach his vision to, so that it might be saved before he died. Niehardt reflects, "His chief purpose was to 'save his Great Vision for men.'"pg. xix At this time Black Elk was old, going blind and he lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation where the Wounded Knee Massacre took place in 1890. Black Elk was a holy man, a visionary and a healer. He was also related to Crazy Horse through his father.

B
...more
Liz
Jan 05, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: life-history
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 leade ...more
Derek Davis
Feb 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There's a danger when the words of a native are arranged and tidied by a non-native that you can end up with a strange and suspicious amalgam. Though Neihardt did not speak Black Elk's Lakota dialect and Black Elk spoke no English, I don't see that here. If Neihardt embellished or skewed, he left no traces. What we are left with are the reminiscences of an aged, dispirited but honest and upright Native American who lived through the worst of our country's almost indifferent genocidal onslaught y ...more
Kat
Dec 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Americans
Shelves: 5-stars
I'm trained to be suspicious of stories like this: an old Lakota shaman decides to tell all about his previously secret visions to a white poet so he can write them in English and publish them. ??! But a shallow-digging internet search does not turn up anything suggesting against this, so okay.

So, okay. Black Elk fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn AND the Wounded Knee Massacre, AND travelled to Europe with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, AND he was a powerful shaman who was taken on numer
...more
karlito delacasa
Sep 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Vous avez remarqué que toute chose faite par un indien est dans un cercle. Nos tipis étaient ronds comme des nids d'oiseaux et toujours disposés en cercle. Il en est ainsi parce que le pouvoir de l'Univers agit selon des cercles et que toute chose tend à être ronde. Dans l'ancien temps, lorsque nous étions un peuple fort et heureux, tout notre pouvoir venait du cercle sacré de la nation, et tant qu'il ne fut pas brisé.

Tout ce que fait le pouvoir de l'Univers se fait dans un cercle. Le ciel est
...more
Matt
Sep 21, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Black Elk’s was an atypical member of the Sioux Nation, due in large part to his youthful visions and eventual emergence as a Sioux Medicine man with prophetic and healing powers. His remarkable experiences provide a deep insight into the Sioux relationship with nature. By the time John Nehring, author of Black Elk Speaks, interviews Black Elk, he is near the end of his life. Black Elk is risking much in revealing the sacred details of his life story to a white man, but feels it necessary in ord ...more
David Monroe
The story of an Oglala Souix Shaman, Black Elk, cousin of Crazy Horse. He witnessed the battles of Big Horn and Wounded Knee. He tells his story through a translator, to the poet Neihardt.

I read this in High School and again when I worked as the historian for the Pres. Benjamin Harrison Home. Harrison was the Pres. during the Wounded Knee battle and I needed to refresh the story and started an educational program using some quotes from this, Harrison letters, tlelgrams, news paper reports, ets.
...more
Ryl
Nov 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The life story of Black Elk, a Lakota healer, during the Indian Wars of 1860-1890. Black Elk grew up in the thick of it all, constantly moving away from the Wasichus with his people, watching his land disappear, and having visions about how he could help the people save their way of life. He had a pretty interesting life: he joined up with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show for a few years, he was involved in several battles, and he was at the massacre at Wounded Knee all before he was thirty. The be ...more
Brandon
Jul 16, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
wha? i read this in a class where the blond/blue eyed professor thought he was native american.
Tracey Hasz
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this book in college for a Religious Studies course. Somehow it was more powerful reading it with others who discussed it in that context. I love the dream portions of the book.
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Have a secret I don't think they have one 1 5 Jul 05, 2015 09:24PM  
connection of black elk to mother nature 12 29 Jun 29, 2013 07:20AM  
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26 followers
Heȟáka Sápa (Black Elk) (December 1863 – August 19, 1950) was a famous wičháša wakȟáŋ (medicine man and holy man) of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux). He was Heyoka and a second cousin of Crazy Horse.

Since the 1970s the book Black Elk Speaks has become an important source for studying Native spirituality, sparking a renewal of interest in Native religions. Black Elk worked with John Neihardt to give a fi
...more
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“Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that one.” 92 likes
“I did not see anything [New York 1886] to help my people. I could see that the Wasichus [white man] did not care for each other the way our people did before the nation's hoop was broken. They would take everything from each other if they could, and so there were some who had more of everything than they could use, while crowds of people had nothing at all and maybe were starving. This could not be better than the old ways of my people.” 47 likes
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