Main CategoriesNative American TeachingsSioux, Hopi and Intertribal Wisdom Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux

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

Product no.: 0-8032-8359-8
Black Elk Speaks is widely hailed as a religious classic, one of the best spiritual books of the modern era and the bestselling book of all time by an American Indian.

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Publisher's Synopsis

This inspirational and unfailingly powerful story reveals the life and visions of the Lakota healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863–1950) and the tragic history of his Sioux people during the epic closing decades of the Old West. In 1930, the aging Black Elk met a kindred spirit, the famed poet, writer, and critic John G. Neihardt (1881–1973) on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The Lakota elder chose Neihardt to share his visions and life with the world. Neihardt understood and today Black Elk is known to all.

Black Elk’s remarkable great vision came to him during a time of decimation and loss, when outsiders were stealing the Lakotas’ land, slaughtering buffalo, and threatening their age-old way of life. As Black Elk remembers all too well, the Lakotas, led by such legendary men as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, fought unceasingly for their freedom, winning a world-renowned victory at the Little Bighorn and suffering unspeakable losses at Wounded Knee. 

Black Elk Speaks however is more than the epic history of a valiant Native nation. It is beloved as a spiritual classic because of John Neihardt’s sensitivity to Black Elk’s resounding vision of the wholeness of earth, her creatures, and all of humanity. Black Elk Speaks is a once-in-a-lifetime read: the moving story of a young Lakota boy before the reservation years, the unforgettable history of an American Indian nation, and an enduring spiritual message for us all.


"If a religious text of powerful import occurred in the twentieth century, it was Black Elk Speaks. If both Eastern (Buddhist/Taoist) and Western (Judeo-Christian/Muslim) religious canons are to be challenged and grounded in new theology, a major source will be Black Elk Speaks."     ~Whole Earth, 2000


"I cured with the power that came through me. Of course, it was not I who cured, it was the power from the Outer World, the visions and the ceremonies had only made me like a hole through which the power could come to the two-leggeds...

If I thought that I was doing it myself, the hole would close up and no power could come through. Then everything I could do would be foolish."


Born to a medicine man who followed Crazy Horse, Black Elk witnessed the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 and the upheaval that followed the tribe's flight to Canada to join Sitting Bull. In 1886 he joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. In 1889 he returned to the Pine Ridge Reservation, where, as a spiritual authority, he supported the Ghost Dance movement. The movement, built on the belief that ritual observances would cause the white people to leave and the buffalo to return, declined after it failed to protect its followers at the Battle of Wounded Knee.

In 1904 he was converted by a priest to the Catholic faith and took the name Nicholas Black Elk. As a member of the Society of St. Joseph, he helped sponsor the annual Catholic Sioux Congress and was active in converting others to Catholicism. In Black Elk Speaks (1932), edited by John G. Neihardt, he describes his childhood and early adult life and the spiritual life of the Sioux. In The Sacred Pipe (1953), edited by Joseph E. Brown, he describes Sioux ritual and spiritual practices.

Editor Neihardt, John G.
Author Black Elk, Nicholas
Book Type Trade Paperback
Page Count 298 pp.
Publisher University of Nebraska Press 1993
Browse these categories as well: Sioux, Hopi and Intertribal Wisdom, Genocide of the Native Americans, Spiritual Biography and Autobiography, Medicine Men and Crazy Heyokas

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