I had a lot of trouble prying meaning from the translated words of Black Elk. Because the account is taken from the spoken Lakota words from an actual Sioux, I trust that Neihardt gave the most accurate depiction of the Native American people that he possible could. However, the account was given with plenty of description and a lack of story line content. Naturally, my mind focused on the historical plot that provides the setting for the story: the interaction of Native Americans with European settlers up until the battle at Wounded Knee or rather, the massacre at Wounded Knee.
I found a lot of morbid irony in the fact that the Native Americans, a peace loving people who value the sacredness of all life forms, were forced to defend their people against the west settling “white man.” The Great Sioux were not a violent people, but were killed by the millions as they faced inescapable genocide. We can see the Sioux’s peaceful tendencies as Black Elk explains with his sacred bow in-hand that he “was a little in doubt about the Wanekia religion at that time, and did not want to kill anybody because of it.” (Black Elk Speaks xxxv) It is a feeling of vengeance invoked by the suffering of his own people that drives his will to fight.
The account makes me think that in many ways, the Native Americans were more advanced than his white counterpart. The Native Americans did not have the technological innovation to stand up to the United State’s armies which ultimately led to their defeat, but the Sioux people understood an important concept that we so often talk about in class: unity. The conflict caused between the Native American people and the invading white settlers was the result of the white man’s poor reconciliation with diversity. The Sioux people found meaning in, “pleasing to the Powers of the Universe that are One Power.” (Black Elk Speaks xxxii) The White man found meaning in furthering his own success and beliefs. Black Elk has trouble comprehending the white man’s senseless killing as he recalls when “the bison were so many that they could not be counted, but more and more Wasichus came to kill them until there were only heaps of bones scattered where they used to be. The Wasichus did not kill them to eat; they killed them for the metal that makes them crazy, and they took only the hides to sell.”(Black Elk Speaks xxxi) Just as the bison were killed for unjustified reasons, the Sioux people were killed for land, religious differences, cultural differences, and other ignorant reasons.
I could rant on the countless injustices of the white man when it comes to the treatment of Native Americans, but instead of focusing the rest of my entry on the tragedy of the fall of the Sioux, I’d like to acknowledge their great culture. Although simple, the Sioux people were nothing less than a wise people. They understood that land can’t truly be owned by any one person. They understood that all living and natural forces are in some manner sacred. We can all learn from Black Elk’s continual appreciation of the beauty around him.