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Black Elk Speaks by John Neihardt

            "Black Elk Speaks" is the biography of a holy man of the Oglala Sioux tribe. Author John Neihardt interviewed Black Elk in an effort to learn about American Indian religion and spirituality to incorporate into his poetry. Through many long discussions spanning over two years, Black Elk told Neihardt the story of the Oglala Sioux and the many hardships his people faced in the early nineteenth century. With Black Elk's son Ben translating and his own daughter Enid taking notes in short hand, Neihardt wrote of Black Elk's recounting of the Battle of Little Bighorn, the Wounded Knee Massacre and the emergence of the Ghost Dance. Throughout his entire life Black Elk attempted to apply his spiritual role as a holy man to saving his nation from the encroachment and subsequent oppression of the Wasichus, or white people, on the land his people had occupied for centuries. Despite his attempts, Black Elk interpreted his life as a holy man as "the story of a mighty vision given to a man too weak to use it; of a people's dream that died in bloody snow"" (BES, p.2). .
             When he was six years old, Black Elk had a great vision wherein the six Grandfathers showed him the fate of his people. The vision started with two men "coming from the clouds, headfirst like arrows slanting down"" (BES, p. 18), a recurring symbol reminding Black Elk of his importance as a holy man to his people. These two men presented Black Elk with a bay horse that makes a circular turn in the four directions, north, south, east, and west. Then there were twelve horses facing in each direction and each group of twelve were different colors to represent the four quarters of the earth. The bay horse tells him that these horses will take Black Elk to his Grandfathers. They came to a cloud that changed into a tepee with a rainbow for a door and inside the tepee the six Grandfathers were waiting.
             Black Elk recognized the six Grandfathers as the Powers of the World.

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