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Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux Paperback – 2005

4.4 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Black Elk Speaks is the story of the Lakota visionary and healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863–1950) and his people during the momentous twilight years of the nineteenth century. Black Elk met the distinguished poet, writer, and critic John G. Neihardt (1881–1973) in 1930 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and chose Neihardt to tell his story. Neihardt understood and conveyed Black Elk’s experiences in this powerful and inspirational message for all humankind.

When Black Elk received his great vision, white settlers were invading the Lakotas’ homeland, decimating buffalo herds, and threatening to extinguish the Lakotas’ way of life. The Lakotas fought fiercely to retain their freedom and way of life, a dogged resistance that resulted in a remarkable victory at the Little Bighorn and an unspeakable tragedy at Wounded Knee. Black Elk Speaks offers much more than a precious glimpse of a vanished time, however. As related by Neihardt, Black Elk’s searing visions of the unity of humanity and the earth have made this book a venerated spiritual classic. Whether appreciated as the poignant tale of a Lakota life, a history of a Native nation, or an enduring spiritual testament, Black Elk Speaks is unforgettable.

This new edition features two additional essays by John G. Neihardt that further illuminate his experience with Black Elk; an essay by Alexis Petri, great-granddaughter of John G. Neihardt, that celebrates Neihardt’s remarkable accomplishments; and a look at the legacy of the special relationship between Neihardt and Black Elk, written by Lori Utecht, editor of Knowledge and Opinion: Essays and Literary Criticism of John G. Neihardt.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press; 3rd Revised edition edition (2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803283857
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803283855
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #274,991 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I could not have read this book without then reading the original notes from which it was taken. "Black Elk Speaks" is a lovely piece of literature, but it is incomplete without the original notes, published as "The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk's Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt." I admire Black Elk's ability to express universal philosophical insights. This book will be understood on many levels, but was meant to appeal to those seeking a mature contemplation on the great mystery of life.
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This book is quite difficult to read on many levels - but the challenge it presents to mainstream, American readers is worth stretching one's mind to encompass.

As with any written account of an oral presentation, it often seems as if it lacks polish. But its directness is part of its art. It is not a story told to entertain. It is a recounting of an important story and a vision unfulfilled, a factor that puzzles the sympathetic reader as much as it seemed to grieve Black Elk himself.

The value to many readers lies in hearing a different point of view no only on history but also on valid ways of knowing and thinking. As a counterpoint to European epistemology, this book is worth the effort to see the world through another set of eyes.
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Format: Paperback
As I recall, it was one of those hot, smoggy summer days in LA. We were sitting on a park bench in the shade. The park was one of those anonymous lttle collections of half-watered, half-dead grassy spots that dot the LA sprawl. Present were Manuel, his wife Vera chief of what was left of the Huhumonga tribe (Gabrielino, in Spanish), and several of us white activists. We were all working to preserve the remaining sage scrub beds (a sacred plant to Western tribes) from San Bernardino area developers. Now, Manuel, as long as I had known him, was a mild-mannered man, content to let Vera make decisions for those Gabrielinos still active in tribal affairs. Maybe, it was the summer heat or the unruly kids playing nearby, I don't know. But suddenly Manuel jumped from the bench, strode over to the several families with the kids, and in a stern and steady voice proceeded to remind them that all the land upon which they now walked and drove had once belonged to his people who had peaceably roamed the land. A moment later, he returned, and we resumed without comment. But I've never forgotten that moment, not because it was embarrassing for Manuel or for the bewildered families who had no idea who he was, but for what it demonstrated to me. That even in the middle of one of America's great cities, having long ago replaced the vast beds of coastal sage and peaceable people, there remain ghostly encounters with a very real pre-European past.

And that's the sort of glimpse Black Elk Speaks provides in wonderful detail. The past comes alive through the proverbial eyes of a revered man whose people have been overly villified or overly romanticized, but rarely portrayed in all their human complexity. Black Elk, I think, manages the complexity as he recounts experiences from boyhood through young adulthood.
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Format: Paperback
The Power is in the Understanding

The "meaning" of this book is summarized by Black Elk himself when he says, and repeats, toward the end of the book "The power is in the Understanding". He is explaining how it was decided that he should share with the rest of his tribe a vision he has been entrusted with. They develop a ritual dance, which acts out his vision. In this manner, the entire tribe participates in the communication of this vision, and hopefully results in understanding of its message. I believe Black Elk's motivation in participating in the interviews, which this book captures, is his desire to share with all people the truth of what happened to him and his people, and the truth of what his spiritual lessons offer.

He wants to empower everyone through understanding. The Power is in the Understanding.

Most review's I've read on this book fall primarily into two camps: "Scholastic" (this is a great work of history / theology) or "Unappreciative" (I don't understand why anyone would want to read this).

This book is a verbatim (edited for presentation I assume) dictation of interviews with Black Elk. So, this is not a book read for "entertainment". However, as a historical documentation it cannot be replaced.

This is a must-read for anyone interested in Theology and/or Native American studies.
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Format: Paperback
Black Elk Speaks is a 1932 autobiography of an Oglala Sioux medicine man as told to John Neihardt.

In the summer of 1930, as part of his research into the Native American perspective on the Ghost Dance movement, Neihardt contacted an Oglala holy man named Black Elk, who had been present as a young man at the 1876 Battle of the Little Big Horn and the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre. As Neihardt tells the story, Black Elk gave him the gift of his life's narrative, including the visions he had had and some of the Oglala rituals he had performed. The two men developed a close friendship. The book Black Elk Speaks, grew from their conversations continuing in the spring of 1931, and is now Neihardt's most familiar work.

[...]
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