I was really moved by reading this piece. My husband and I did an immense amount of energy work this summer (2 different trips) to assist all of those American Indians who were trapped, tortured, beaten, enslaved, murdered as well as stripped of their land, dignity, and lives. We watched as countless beings returned to The Light through our ceremonies and are honored to have been participants in this gift…here is to our true ancestors…
- Posted by AuroRa on September 18, 2010 at 9:59pm in THE GOSPEL OF THE REDMAN
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As a young member of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) tribe in 1876, Black Elk witnessed the Battle of Little Bighorn, in which Sioux forces led by Chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse dealt a crushing defeat to a battalion of U.S. soldiers led by Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer. In the 1880s, Black Elk toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show before returning to the Pine Ridge Reservation established for the Oglala in South Dakota. After the massacre of more than 200 Sioux at Wounded Knee Creek in late 1890 effectively put an end to Native American military resistance in the West, Black Elk remained at Pine Ridge, where he later converted to Christianity. In 1930, he began telling his story to the writer John Neihardt; the result was “Black Elk Speaks” (1932), a vivid and affecting chronicle of Lakota history and spiritual traditions.
There can never be peace between nations until there is first known that true peace which is within the souls of men. ~ Black Elk, Oglala Lakota Sioux Medicine Man
Black Elk as a Young Man;
Black Elk was born in 1863 on the Little Powder River, in what is now Wyoming. Like his father before him, Black Elk would become a warrior, as well as a medicine man or priest of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) tribe. Both of them would follow Chief Crazy Horse, a second cousin of Black Elk’s, who as early as 1865 acted as a leader of Sioux resistance to white settlement in the northern Great Plains region. In 1874, after gold was discovered in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory–long revered by the Sioux as Paha Sapa, a sacred land–prospectors flooded the region, ignoring earlier treaties made with the Native Americans. The Sioux resisted a government ultimatum to sell the Black Hills territory and forces led by General George Crook marched into the region in the spring of 1876.
In mid-June, Crazy Horse and his followers (including the young Black Elk), surprised Crook’s men in the Rosebud River Valley and forced their withdrawal before heading north to join the main Sioux encampment led by Sitting Bull on the banks of the Little Bighorn River. It was there on June 25 that the Sioux soundly defeated a U.S. battalion led by Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer, whom the Sioux called “Long Hair.” In the wake of this historic battle, the Sioux came under even more military pressure from U.S. forces; they also grew increasingly short on food, due to the diminishing number of buffalo in the region. In May 1877, Crazy Horse was induced to surrender to General Crook with promises of a reservation for his people. On May 6, however, the great chief was killed during a struggle with soldiers who were seeking to lock him into a guardhouse at Fort Robinson in Nebraska.
From Canada to Pine Ridge;
Rather than be forced onto reservations, Black Elk and other Sioux headed north in the fall of 1877 to Canada–or “Grandmother’s Land”–where Sitting Bull had decided to make a home for his followers the previous spring. Despite efforts to force the chief’s return, Sitting Bull remained in Canada for four years, long after many other Sioux, including Black Elk, had returned to the United States. In late 1881, Black Elk moved to the new Pine Ridge Reservation, which was being established for the Oglala in the southwestern Dakota Territory; he eventually settled near Wounded Knee Creek and from the age of 19 became known as a healer within his tribe.
In 1886, Black Elk left the reservation to tour with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and would perform in cities ranging from Omaha and Chicago to New York and Manchester, England. After returning to Pine Ridge Reservation in 1889, he became involved with the Ghost Dance movement, which held that spiritual rituals such as dance and song would cause the white men to leave, the buffalo to return and the Native American way of life to be reestablished. This movement swept across the Great Plains, reaching the Sioux at Pine Ridge by early 1890.
Wounded Knee and Beyond;
Concerned about the Ghost Dance movement’s growing strength, U.S. government officials arrested some of its leaders, including Sitting Bull, who was killed in mid-December 1890 in the process of being captured. Two weeks later, the U.S. 7th Cavalry division surrounded and attacked a Sioux encampment at Wounded Knee Creek, brutally killing more than 200 men, women, children and elders. The Battle of Wounded Knee effectively marked the end of Native American military resistance in the West, as well as the decline of the Ghost Dance movement.
After being wounded in an attempt to retaliate after Wounded Knee, Black Elk was convinced to surrender by another Sioux chief, Red Cloud. He remained living on the Pine Ridge Reservation and later converted to Catholicism, taking the name Nicholas Black Elk. In 1930, the writer John Neihardt (whose earlier work had dealt with the Omaha tribe of Nebraska) met with Black Elk, by then a tribal elder, at Pine Ridge. Neihardt would record Black Elk’s life story, along with his extensive knowledge of Lakota history and traditions, in “Black Elk Speaks” (1932). Celebrated as a great spiritual text, the book became the bestselling work in history by a Native American.
In its final chapter, Black Elk poignantly reflects on the moment Red Cloud convinced him and others to surrender in the wake of Wounded Knee: “I did not know then how much was ended….I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream.”
BLACK ELK’S VISION
By Celinda Reynolds Kaelin ©2004
Black Elk falls seriously ill when he is nine years old, and is confined to bed in his tipi. While lying there, he is approached by two men who come from the clouds, “headfirst, like arrows slanting down… Each [carrying] a long spear, and from the points of these a jagged lightning flashed.” These two Arrow Men hurry Black Elk to a small cloud which carries him into the sky. There he is greeted by a bay horse who tells him, “Behold me, my life history you shall see. Furthermore, behold them, those where the sun goes down, their lives’ history you shall see.” Black Elk later learns that the bay horse symbolizes Mother Earth, his guide for seeing into the future.
They are then joined by twelve black horses from the west, each wearing a necklace of buffalo hoofs, with swallows flying overhead; twelve white horses from the north wearing elk-tooth necklaces with white geese overhead; twelve sorrel horses from the east wearing horns [probably buffalo] with eagles flying overhead; and twelve buckskin horses from the south wearing horns [probably elk, with hawks overhead.] The bay horse then informs Black Elk that his grandfathers are having a council and these horses will take him there. As they start in procession to the council tipi, they are joined by millions of horses of every color which then transform into every animal imaginable. These animals then return to the four quarters of the earth.
Gift from the West Power. When Black Elk enters the cloud tipi, each of the grandfathers from the four directions bestows him with several gifts. The first to greet him is the Grandfather of the West. This grandfather gives him a cup of water and a bow and arrow, admonishing him to “Behold them, what I give you shall depend on, for you shall go against our enemies and you shall be a great warrior.” Grandfather then stands and runs toward the west, turning into a black horse as he goes. This black horse then becomes emaciated.
Gift from the North Power. Now, the Grandfather of the North stands and gives Black Elk an herb. When he holds it toward the sickly black horse, it becomes strong and fat once again. Grandfather of the North then tells Black Elk to “Behold mother earth, for you shall create a nation…you shall represent the wing [winged, or white goose] of the great giant [Wazia] that lives.” With this, Grandfather runs toward the north and becomes a white goose. Black Elk notes that this power of the north will enable him to make everyone cry as geese do when hardship, winter, is over. [Later in the vision, this same Grandfather gives Black Elk a brown cocoon and a red cocoon.]
Gift from the East Power. Next, Grandfather of the East gives Black Elk a peace pipe which has a spotted eagle outstretched on its stem, saying “Behold this, for with this you shall walk across the earth. Behold this, for with this whatever is sick on this earth you shall make well.”
Gift from the South Power. The fourth grandfather holds a stick which then begins to sprout leaves with birds singing in the new branches. “With this you shall brace yourself as a cane and thus your nation shall brace themselves with this as a cane and upon this cane you shall make a nation.” He tells Black Elk that the road from north to south, the red road for good spirits, is his nation. He also tells him that the black road (from east to west) of the Thunder beings will be his power to protect himself. In addition, Grandfather of the South tells Black Elk that these powers will be his for four generations, or approximately two hundred years.
Great Spirit Above. Now, Great Spirit Above (the fifth grandfather) stretches his hands out and becomes a spotted eagle, telling Black Elk “Behold them; they, the fowls of the universe, shall come to you. Things in the skies [stars] shall be like relatives. They shall take you across the earth with my power. Your grandfathers shall attack an enemy and be unable to destroy him, but you will have the power to destroy. You shall go with courage. This is all.”
The Sixth Grandfather. “Boy, take courage, you wanted my power on earth, so you shall know me. You shall have my power in going back to the earth. Your nation on earth shall have great difficulties. There you shall go. Behold me, for I will depart.” Black Elk watched this Grandfather leave the cloud tipi through the rainbow door. As he watched, this old man with white hair grew younger and younger, until he was Black Elk himself at nine years old.
Black Elk was unconscious for the twelve days during which he experienced this vision. In the remainder of the revelation, the Grandfathers repeated their offering of these same gifts a total of four times, but within a different context each time. Each of these presentations is quite complex and rich in Lakota symbolism. Virtually every word has a special meaning, and can be interpreted on many different levels.
Black Elk was shown the future, including the reservation period for his people, World War I and World War II. The Grandfathers warned Black Elk of a third World War, saying that there “will be a dispute all over the universe” and they gave him a powerful herb that “could destroy a nation.” [Black Elk referred to it as soldier weed, but it may also symbolize the Atomic bomb, as the Grandfathers instructed that he would be able to defend his people with it although it was extremely toxic to everything around.]
This Fourth Ascent, or the present generation, is the most exciting aspect of the prophecy. It is at this time that the Grandfathers showed Black Elk a beautiful future for the people of the world. Our current generation will begin an era of peace, for through the sacred Pipe “they shall have peace in everything.” The Grandfathers showed Black Elk that from the many nations, he would create One Nation — “the continents of the world and the people shall stand as one.” The Grandfathers placed “the sacred stick into the center of the hoop” and told Black Elk that it would nurture and care for all people, and that through it humans would “communicate with our relatives – beast and bird – as one people.” Black Elk clarified that this stick was the cottonwood, the waga chun which is at the heart of the Sundance ceremony. This would seem to mean, then, that the Sun Dance will play a vital role in this transformation of human beings.
This era of peace and oneness is a part of virtually all indigenous prophecies, and this lends an added weight to Black Elk’s vision. His is not the only voice telling us that humans are preparing for a cosmogenesis. Mayan prophecies say that this will manifest by the year 2012. This cosmogenesis is a collective vision that has been given to many peoples, and we are extremely fortunate to be of the generation that will see this transformation of human beings into our higher selves. “Wolakota!”