The Indian Reader


Black Elk Speaks was first published in 1932 to enthusiastic reviews from literary critics who regarded it as a strange yet beautiful book. The general public, having almost no 'knowledge' of Indians, gave the book a cool reception and in less than two years the publisher discontinued it.

Authored by John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks portrays Black Elk, an OgIala Sioux holy man and priest, and chronicles the life of the Indian medicine man's "journey into the. center of the earth. Born in, 1863, Black Elk, the second cousin to Crazy Horse, witnessed the Battle of Little Big Horn at age 13, and was present at the Battle at Wounded Knee, in 1890.

A copy of this "book of visions" made its way to Zurich, Switzerland and was rediscovered and enjoyed by German scholars, including renowned philosopher and psychologist Carl Jung. The book was reissued in 1961 and has continued to grow in popularity.

In late 1985, staff of The Indian Reader interviewed Black Elk's grandson, also a medicine man. Videotaped in northeastern Alabama on a cool fall day, Wallace Black Elk's words echoed those of his famous grandfather in a lively and extensive conversation between him and Reader Executive Editor Dr. MaCaki PeSheWa-himself a shaman and priest. Based on, this taped meeting, The Indian Reader is pleased to share with you...

A Moment


Wallace Black Elk

In our Lakota language we are makowla sha sha--we are earth people and iktewe sha sha, common people. That's the language they use. So that is the way were recognized.The spirit never said we're "American Indians." They never used that. We know America, this land we call Turtle Island, is named after Amerigo Vespucci. My middle name-Vespucci-is gone. I don't. know what happened to "Vespucci" but, drop my middle name or last name, then they call me "American Indian."

The word "Indian" itself doesn't mean anything. It's, another fictitious, name. Just because Columbus said so. It's a lost word. He got lost and used a misplaced word and applied it to us. So today (When-someone asks] "Are you American Indian?" we say "Yea!" '

Now there is another label on top of that. They call me "Sioux." The word "Sioux" is a French word. It means "'cut ,throat, or "cunning." So some people say "I'm a Sioux," "I'm proud Sioux, or " I'm proud to be Indian." But thats all fictitious.

So all these things confuse people. And the Way history is written, it's only for them. So Columbus told the Queen of Spain that he was going to India by way around the world, because the world was round. So he was going to go around, coming through the back door, so to speak. Get all the gold, and spices,come back,swing around the other way through the front door, Because going through the Mediterranean there's a lot of ripoffs going on. So, that was the intention.

But see, going,off in the water, he went totally off course. And he didn't know where he was or where he went. So we found him [laughter]. So we had to send him back to where he came from. But that is not in the history. Well, Indians have the navigation-the stars.

They use the stars and say "You go that way, and you get home. That's the way you came from." So, they sent him back.

About the word "Indian." When he [Columbus] sees these people-"Indians!" Because he was going to India, the word just popped out. "Indians[laughter]

And here they want to change the word "Indios," because "Indios" is a Portuguese word which means "Children of God." But he never told the .Queen of Spain that he was going to see the Children of God. He was going to India. But later the literaturists altered,it. They wanted to change the name to Indios but, this never was so. It wasn't that way..

Today, in Websters Dictionary, in the whole English language, look for the word "Indian.". Webster never defined what the "Indian" means. It only gave "primitive people of North America" thats all.

So, the definition of earth people goes much deeper. It goes back to the fire and the rock and the water and green. So that definition goes much deeper. So, we are the real, true earth people-the sacred, mystery people of Turtle Island.

And so, there will be a time when people will understand who we are. Really who we are. And I think all races of people are going to find themselves as earth people. Then it will come to one understanding again.

And that is my goal, to define who we are.

Today, in this society, they all talk about the "heavenly father." But they dont know who their mother is. Because Adam was out of the blue, you know, they dont know who their mother is.

Now the other science-they preach the evolution. These scientists went to work and started looking for their mother and they thought they'd found their mother. Their mother was a monkey. So they start to preach evolution.

"We are the real, true earth people-the sacred, mystery people of Turtle Island And so, there will be a time when people will understand who we are. Really, who we are. And I think all races of people are going to find themselves as earth people. Then it will come to one understanding again."

So today, civilized, Christianized people talk about their."'heavenly father," but they don't know who their mother is. And we have a spirit that is with us here, he tells us these people say "heavenly father" but these people never saw him. They never saw him; that's what he said.

When I was lecturing at Berlin University, this guy came running up with.this thick book, waving. "Hey, you're right. Its written here, that no man has seen the face of god." And I didn't write it.

So we know who our mother is. Because we talk about the wisdom which encompasses the knowledge, and the knowledge is a woman, we call "grandmother," the "earth" or "mother earth." So the light begin from a fire. We were called fire-tenders and were earth-ruled. Our body is made of fire, rock, dirt, earth. Because we drink water, and we eat green, we are part earth So the fire, rock, water, and green- that's what rules me. That's how come we are earth people. So the definition, to me, is that simple.

There are [four] sacred colors; four winds, up and down, then in a circle. So we always look at things from all directions. But this philosophy confuses people because they always say There's two sides. There's two sides to a coin ... there's always two sides. But we're.'the people who always look at four sides, one on top, one from the bottom,.So, we look at things that way. So it's the same way, trying to figure out, who we, the earth people really are. So I think it is a good subject.

Like we have a pipe, we call sacred -pipe, and this- is carved by, tuca chila [the creator]. He gave us one drop of wisdom and grandmother gave us one drop of knowledge, and power, and a gift we call talent, and love. So these four parts, I think, need to be defined. Accurately, precisely, concisely. It has to be interpreted by all languages.

For example, we have a straight line., and then we have a square, a diamond, a rectangle, or a triangle. So, these are the four basics. When you put these all together, you have the geometrical circle. And that's what Einstein proved. '

So, like we have the numbers and the maths, geometry, algebra, trigonometry, and calculation. This is what Einstein uses: calculation. He uses this power. The knowledge has a base like fire, rock, water, green. So Einstein only think that he proved everything [exists] with a circle.

So he called his fire "energy." So the base of knowledge has a power. So it began with a fire; it is called atom" or "energy." E =.MC2. But now Man claims. he discovered the atom. He claims. he discovered. the fire lakes and oceans. Like Balboa came over and go across this and go like this [Black ,Elk shields his eyes from sunlight with his hand, as though surveying the land], and he said, "I discovered the Pacific, like that.

The earth,people say "is that what is out there?" [laughter]

Einstein knew when he discovered the - fire or atom, it would go in the wrong hand, it would spell total annihilation. So who's the wrong hand? Is it Ronnie or is it Gorbachev?

A reporter came and was to write about what he called us "Indians." He wanted to write something about "Indians."

"So whats this tree?" he says. "What kind of wood?" He started taking [notes on] his little pad. What kind of wood?

"Oh, these are pine, and these are cottonwood and these are hickory and ash wood."

"Can you tell me what a cottonwood tree looks like?"

So I have to march him down, down the canyon. There is this big tree standing. This is a cottonwood.

Which one is a hickory?"

And I have to march him over to this end. I had to march him all over. A tree is a tree: he is educated. A tree's a tree, so I had to run him all over to find out...

"What do you call this?" Thats a fire." [laughter] from The word fire" itself is derived from the Latin and Greek. So what is the word fire in English? So they only speak correct English but there is no correct English because English is rooted into Latin, Greek, Hebrew and many other languages.

It's' sort of like a. bastardized language. It's lost its roots. So that's how come the English language is the most dangerous language in the world. That the spirit told us. Theres all these negatives, and words like ifs and buts and maybes, assuming and probabilities and all this. Its all negative.

That's the way we speak. The human brain is a bunch of receiving cells and the electrical wave comes and dilates and receives the message. But we pack all this junk in one side-laws and rules and regulations. So when we receive the message, we always oppose it: "but-but-if-if"-like that you know. We always oppose, reject it. :

I went to the University of Utah. I asked, What is the definition of 'psychology and they said it is the study of human behavior, or something like that. What we call spirit.

Like one boy here last Monday night, he went to a vision quest. I took him, up to rock mountain. And he was talking to send telepathic wave, intelligent talking to him-but secretly and quietly. But he always stop and reject-oppose in his mind-because he had, laws and rules and regulations, all set in his mind embedded in deep. So he has to go by these rules and regulations, see?

Now what, he saw here is only what he hears. So he didn't actually see nothing because he rely on his naked eye.,This society rely on the naked eye. They cut out communication from ear and the senses, smell and taste and feeling. They lost it.

"This society rely on the naked eye. They cut out communication from ear and the senses, smell and taste and feeling. They lost it ... Make him understand because this boy only want to find the truth and the truth is already here. The stars and the moon and the sun and the earth is here, and the fire is here and everything is still here. But we just simply wandered off."

So, [we asked] tucachila: "Make him understand because this boy only want to find the truth and the truth is already here. The stars and the moon and,the sun and the earth is here and the fire is here and everything is still here. But we just simply wandered off. So tucachila have mercy on him and make him understand like that-quietly-it will be all right, that is so." So he accepted our plea.

So to tell this boy, in educated way, that, he could say something, be could change it- quick-but very little come from his heart. So [good words]: will trickle down to his heart and from there, he will think he live by the spirit, by the fire that the atom is, the spirit.

So tell him that-and that he relies on his naked eyes, his eyes plays tricks on his mind-tell him that and he-sees what be sees, but not what he wants to see. Tell him that. So that's psychology, see?

They forced us to go to school. The Christian people were at the forefront, - and there was military power and there was technology and science behind them. They poked holes in us and get all this energy out and there's the politician behind that. So this kind of all molded together and kind of rolled over us. So we have to go under it.

My cousin was (telling how] we were forced to go to school and [how we were] forced to learn spelling. If we didn't spell a word correctly, they whipped our hands with a ruler. Sometimes they broke the ruler, or our hands, or put clothespins on our ears or tied our shoes together and put them around our neck or sometimes made us eat laundry soap. They used all kinds of torture to make us spell.

I think the white people misspell too, since gold is the highest value in the world. So we all got caught in this gold dome. But I think they misspelled gold, they left the "I" out. of "gold." So that is why they put "In God We Trust." [laughter]

So this society drifted away when they took that drop of wisdom and knowledge and power and gift and they wanted to exercise their mind. [So Man says]"Well Im going to build some mountains.. Well, it's already here. Im going to build some trees Well its already here. Im going to make some flying people." Well they're already here. "So Im going to make some four legged walk around here, make some creatures walk around. They are already,here. So what else could he make? He started looking around. Stars? Well it's already here? Moon? Sun? Everything. What else can I make?He wanted to exercise his mind because their wisdom create all things. Because wisdom in itself is a creator. And the knowledge is a woman that gives Iife-birth, and life.

So what else could he make? He looked around. There's nothing.Everything he understand because everything has science language. Everything is calculated precisely and everything was [already]. calculated, made by the creator. .

When you go to the university, you have to speak one of the languages. You have to understand the scientific language or the psychological language or the legal language or religious language. Science language and psychological language are two separate languages: they don't communicate.

You know, we have medical science now, probing, trying to discover a remedy for cancer, polio, tuberculosis, heart disease and so on. But these are four basics that have no cure and in fact, they have a record of over 2000 years combating these dread diseases but they have no cure up to this time.

Pollution begins in the mind. Then, if it localizes, the effect (localizes in the body]. We do have medicine, like I mentioned, the green vegetation, the trees and the forest is our home, the edible vegetables that we eat and there are medicine people. So these are spiritual foods and these are medicine people. They will be our first aid people and they will come to the aid of Man. Well run into this problem-. Because where Man made his mistake was that the wisdom and knowledge and power and gift twisted his own mind.

Man claims to discover the fire and rock and water and the green and then build' a bonfire to place the rock on top and melt all these metals like gold and silver, copper, lead, iron, steel, aluminum down to the plastic cups. And he uses water to mold and shape things. And without thinking leaves all the residue behind and causes all kind of contamination, and the effects. ,

The scientists became pollution scientists and what they, caused was frustration,arguments, anger-confusion is all they left behind. "Well, this is not our job. Let the medicals and, ,let the psychologists solve that problem. That's their job,'they're hired and paid for this so let them solve it."'

But here, medical science ends up finding out what caused all the radioactive problems, the effects-the chain reaction. Now, they have no way of neutralizing this radioactivity. So now: "This, is not our problem, this in a legal problem." So. they pass the buck on to the legal people.

The Congress says: "Clean air Thats an order!" Well, the air never clears, up.,"Clean water! Thats an order!" Well the water never clears up. Rivers and lakes and oceans-nothing.

"So everybody, is like in a shell and everybody contaminates each other, and they all try to blame each other and try to squirm out at the same time. So I think we the earth people, have to come from the outside and crack the nutshell and remove the bacteria or the enemy and all will be,well.So that is my job.

Get tough Were supposed to be immune, to all chemicals to everything. But,M nothing happened. We didn't get tough. We didn't develop immunities. Nothing.

"Well this is not a legal problem, this is a religious problem."

So they pass it to Jerry,Falwell, Billy Graham, Oral Roberts. They're,the ones who are supposed, to get on T.V. and hogey pogey. They're supposed to cure all the cancer, polio, tuberculosis and heart disease, like that. But nothing happened.

Well, they finally said: This is not our problem, this is a scientific problem, this is a psychological problem... right back where it started. So they kind of pass the buck around.

So everybody is like in, a shell and everybody contaminates each other, and they all try to blame each other and try to squirm out at the same time. So I think we, the earth people, have to come from the outside and crack the nutshell and remove the bacteria or the enemy and all will be well. So that is my job.

The vision that has been prophesied .here . . . there will be a time,,. a. society will create this monster and this. monster is so big he's going to swallow the whole world and by the time he gets half the world in his mouth, theres a fire inside this rock, the rock will explode and his mouth and his head will disintegrate. So, that was the end of life. Man will end his own life. He is part of the earth.

A lot of people ask me, How come you are so confident that you could avoid this nuclear destruction? Because the wisdom, knowledge, power and gift is in our hand. In other words, In God Trust is really in our hands.

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