Black Elk Speaks Study Guide

Black Elk Speaks Study Guide

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Black Elk Speaks

Black Elk Speaks is the nonfiction book that reflects the talks of the healer of the Lakota people named Black Elk. Neihardt was one of the few who was granted permission to enter Lakota reservation and talk to the people who still remember the specific rituals he wanted to depict. He went there with his two daughters and all the book is dedicated to his own description of what he saw there and the words of Black Elk, translated to Neihardt by his son, Ben Black Elk.

The central event of this story is the one talk of Black Elk when he tells Neihardt about his great vision, where he saw himself as a “sixth grandfather”, an embodiment of the great ancestor of all the nature and mankind. This vision is full of peace and union with all the living beings and existence in general and can be portrayed as the Lakota understanding of divine and transcendence.

Black Elk told Neihardt a lot about his culture and visions, describing his duty as a healer and the rituals he uses to aid the sick. Gradually, the two men became close friends. As one of Neihardt’s daughters later told, Black Elk adopted them all into his family.

The story of Neihardt was criticized later, because some of the critics doubted its accuracy and ability of a foreigner to depict the Lakota culture and not distort it in favor of his own understanding of it. Still, it stays one of the longest and most precise descriptions of the experience of a Lakota wise man. Black Elk participated in the Battle of Little Big Horn and survived through the Wounded Knee massacre. He gained wisdom and patience to become a healer and a spiritual person of his people. His memoirs, his culture, worldview and rituals are definitely worth preserving.

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