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Black Elk Biography

(1863–1950), wichasha wakon, Black Elk Speaks, The Sacred Pipe

american indians sioux neihardt

Native American, a Lakota of the Oglala band of Sioux Indians. Cousin to Crazy Horse, he was a wichasha wakon—a holy man or priest—visited by a series of visions which gave him confirmation of his adopted role. In August 1930 the American poet John G. Neihardt, known also as Flaming Rainbow, visited Black Elk and, using Black Elk's son Ben as an interpreter, conducted a series of talks with him. The results were published as Black Elk Speaks (1932), which has since become the most famous of all Native American narratives. Black Elk lived through Custer's defeat at the battle of the Little Big Horn, witnessed the Ghost Dance religion, and survived the massacre of his people at Wounded Knee. He toured Italy, France, and England with Buffalo Bill, even dancing in front of Queen Victoria. More than an autobiography or a history of the Sioux, Black Elk Speaks is also a book of instruction: Black Elk's primary aim was to ‘save his Great Vision for men’. Neihardt conveys Black Elk's sense of the Great Being who is ‘older than all need, older than all pain and prayer’. In 1947 Joseph Epes Brown also visited Black Elk; the result was The Sacred Pipe (1953), in which Black Elk concentrated on ‘the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux’. The book contains a detailed and moving account of the religious practices of the Sioux Indians. In 1973 Neihardt released a three-record set of readings and reminiscences of Black Elk and other Indians, his voice registering beautifully the passion and humanity of their understanding of the world. See also Native American Writing.

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