Black Elk

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Black Elk (b. Ekhaka Sapa)

(1863–1950) Oglala Sioux mystic/medicine man; born near the Little Powder River in present-day Montana or Wyoming. Returning with Sitting Bull from Canadian exile, he traveled with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. In 1932 he dictated his autobiography, which provided great insight into Sioux religious beliefs.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.

Black Elk

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Black Elk was an Oglala Sioux wichasha wakon (holy man or priest). A second cousin to Crazy Horse, he knew the old war chief well.

In August 1930 a Nebraska writer named John G. Neihardt met Black Elk while doing research on American Indian history. Black Elk, who did not speak English, was said to have remarked to his interpreter, "As I sit here, I can feel in this man beside me a strong desire to know the things of the Other World. He has been sent to learn what I know, and I will teach him."

The world is richer because he did. Neihardt's book, Black Elk Speaks, is one of the great religious books written on the American continent. Not only has it introduced Lakota religious concepts to non-Indians, it has reintroduced countless Indian young people to their roots, whether or not they are from the Plains Indian culture.

Black Elk shared the spiritual framework of the pipe ceremonies and his vision of the "hoop" of his people, delving into what it meant to be a Sioux religious leader and what it means to be an Indian. He shared stories from his youth, remembering bison hunts and Custer's Last Stand. He described the first great vision that set him apart, and he recalled the final days of Wounded Knee.

In his senior years he returned to Harney Peak, where he had experienced his first great vision, filled with images of flying horses and mystical appearances. Here he had heard the sun singing as it rose:

With a visible face I am appearing, In a sacred manner I appear. For the greening earth a pleasantness I make. The center of the nation's hoop I have made pleasant. With visible face, behold me! The four-leggeds and two-leggeds, I have made them to walk; The wings of the air, I have made them to fly. With visible face I appear. My day, I have made it holy.

Now, on his final trip to the place of his vision, Black Elk offered a prayer for all his people who had been so cruelly displaced and abused:

With tears running, O Great Spirit, my Grandfather—with running tears I must say now that the tree has never bloomed. A pitiful old man, you see me here, and I have fallen away and have done nothing. Here at the center of the world, when you took me when I was young and taught me; here, old, I stand, and the tree is withered, Grandfather, my Grandfather. Again, and maybe the last time on this earth, I recall the great vision you sent me. It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives. Nourish it then, that it may leaf and bloom and fill with singing birds. Hear me, not for myself, but for my people.

Neihardt says that on the trip up the mountain the sun had been shining. As Black Elk prayed the sky clouded over and it began to rain. With tears running down his face, the old man repeated: "Hear me in my sorrow, for I may never call again. O make my people live."

"And in a little while," Neihardt tells us, "the sky was clear again."

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
It includes letters from Dakhota prisoners; interviews by Nicholas Black Elk; autobiographies; political tracts; children's books by Charles Alexander Eastman; pageants and novels by Ella Cara Deloria, including Waterlily; and contemporary oral histories of elders from the Spirit Lake Nation.
The American Indian Theatre Company debuts Black Elk Speaks, adapted by Christopher Sergei from the John G.
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Photo 1: Black Elk Walking and Een (right) were photographed by the famous photographer William Henry Jackson (1843-1942).
It would be fitting too if the location was named in recognition of the city's link with North American and Canadian Indians - perhaps Black Elk Square after one of the Sioux warriors who was here with Buffalo Bill's show.
Anyone familiar with Native American history and culture knows Black Elk Speaks, a key piece central to understanding American Indians; but Black Elk, Lakota Visionary takes a different approach in re-assessing Black Elk's life and work, exploring his mystical visions, encounters with Catholicism, and his testament to spiritual realities as they relate to ancestral Sioux belief systems.
They might even have learned something about the getting of wisdom from such thinkers as the Oglala Sioux medicine man Black Elk who Vine Deloria Jr.
Neidhart provides a transcription of Black Elk's lamenting to the four directions:
The book is filled with quotes and messaged from notable Native Americans such as: Chief Crowfoot, Crazy Horse, Chief Seattle, Chief Tecumseh (Crouching Tiger), Chief Dan George, Sitting Bull, Mourning Dove, Black Elk, Luther Standing Bear, and many others.
AUTHOR JOE JACKSON, whose true-life adventure story The Thief at the End of the World was named one of the Top Ten Nonfiction Books of 2008 by Time magazine, has now crafted an exhaustively researched and meticulously detailed biography of Black Elk, the Lakota holy man who was made famous by poet John G.