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On Black Elk Speaks and the Importance of the Black Hills

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Black Elk Speaks is a unique opportunity to observe the day to day life of the Oglala Sioux nation at a vital crossroads. It is set in the late 19th century when westward expansion and gold were changing the lives of tribes across the plains. This narrative, besides giving a first hand account of various historical events, gives exceptional insight into the effects of land reorganization. While the Black Hills were not any more significant to the Sioux than other lands were to other tribes, it becomes apparent that the removal of tribes from their homeland results in a loss of the tribes' livelihood. Black Elk demonstrates this throughout his narrative.

The Sioux nation has a relationship with nature that maybe only the earliest pioneers and settlers may have understood, and that only on a material- not spiritual- level. On a material level, they hunt and gather and make and build their necessities all from nature. Some have weapons and tools that have been traded from the whites but mostly they stick with things from nature. Their fate is tied with their surroundings. If it was a dry year or an especially cold winter, they felt the effects in their food, clothing and shelter supplies. However, this bond is only the surface of the relationship.

On a spiritual level, this relationship becomes infinitely more complex in a way that most westernized people would not begin to understand it. They refer to the bison and the earth and many other things as sacred and name the months things like 'Moon when the Ponies get Fat'. They use the stars and cycles of the seasons to track time. They personify the different directions of winds and different aspects of nature and believe them to hold power. Even their creation story ties them very closely with the earth and with nature. The combination of these relationships, both physical and spiritual, is perhaps why having the land taken from them was so devastating.

Black Elk describes westward expansion and white invasion in a negative light. It disrupts the harmony between his people and nature. For example, they call the Oregon Trail the 'road that caused the trouble before' partly because of all the conflict that arose between whites and natives along the trail, but partly because it split up bison herds, as did railways later. He says the whites 'have made little islands for us and other little islands for the four-leggeds, and always these little islands are becoming smaller' (pg 9) and later after the death of Crazy Horse, he says they were worried because the whites were going to 'pen us up' in those islands. These negative results are why they poured so much into fighting for their land and trying not to be split up.

An aspect that is often overlooked that Black Elk portrays is that so many conflicts concerning land were not, in the Sioux's mind, about the possession of physical land, but about the ability to continue their



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