A Nation Divided
Black Elk, Nicholas. Black Elk Speaks. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1932.
Black Elk Speaks is a 1932 autobiography of a Sioux that shared his story to John Neihardt. As you read through this novel it becomes clear that Black Elk gave Neihardt the gift of his life’s narrative, including the visions he had, some of the Sioux rituals he had performed. But Black Elk Speaks is not just the story of one man, Black Elk said himself that if it were it would not be a story worth telling. It is also the history of the Sioux during his lifetime: 1863-1950. Since Black Elk wasn’t old enough for some of the early battles described in the book he gives the chance to other Lakota Indians to share their experiences. Black Elk Speaks covers the Sioux’s transition from pre-reservation to reservation life.
The traditional Sioux way of life created interdependence between man and nature. Respect for the cycle of the seasons and the animals’ life was necessary in order to secure food, clothing, and shelter. When the Indians lived in cooperation with nature, those necessities were available to them, available in such abundance, in fact, that their very existence seemed proof of the care of the Great Spirit, which had taken care of them for so long. In this novel it showed how when the westward expansion of the whites or “Wasichus” as Black Elk called them, destroyed that interdependence, it violated the Sioux’s take on their scared traditions as well as their old way life which seemed more distant with everyday past.
In traditional expedition stories, the hero brings something back to the community. What Black Elk wants to bring back to his community is a restored sense of tribal identity, but the westward expansion of Wasichus makes that impossible. Through treaties were made throughout the early years of the invasion they were not honored, for intoxicated Indians signed many after being given holy water, whiskey. (103) Other treaties were made...