Black Elk (1863-1950), the Lakota holy man, is beloved by millions of readers around the world. The book Black Elk Speaks is the most widely-read Native American testimony of the last century and a key work in our understanding of American Indian traditions. In Black Elk, Lakota Visionary, Harry Oldmeadow draws on recently discovered sources and in-depth research to provide a major re-assessment of Black Elk’s life and work. The author explores Black Elk’s mystical visions, his controversial engagement with Catholicism, and his previously unrecognized attempts to preserve and revive ancestral Sioux beliefs and practices. Oldmeadow’s lively and highly readable account also examines the controversies that have surrounded Black Elk and his collaborators, John G. Neihardt and Joseph Epes Brown. Oldmeadow judiciously explains why both Black Elk Speaks and The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux are to be ranked amongst the most profound spiritual documents of the twentieth century. Black Elk, Lakota Visionary will command the attention of every reader who is interested in the American Indians, providing fascinating insights into their ancestral traditions prior to the reservation era, the subsequent destruction and revival of their traditional ways, and the vital lessons which the contemporary world might draw from their spiritual legacy.
Historian Oldmeadow (The Betrayal of Tradition) skillfully considers the legacy of Black Elk (1863 1950), a Lakota holy man who is best known through poet John Neihardt's 1932 biography Black Elk Speaks. Oldmeadow balances contemporary research with presentations of the debate about the facts of Black Elk's life and legacy, including his working relationships with non-Native collaborators who documented his words. The bulk concerns three figures: Neihardt, who had a "creative and editorial" role in Black Elk's biography; scholar Joseph Epes Brown, who wrote about Native American rituals in his 1947 book The Sacred Pipe; and Frithjof Schoen, a scholar and mentor to Brown whose work explores the "polysynthetic animism" of Native American spirituality. Oldmeadow addresses and largely dismisses criticisms in current scholarship about the impact of the non-Native lens, such as the encouragement of the romantic image of the noble savage and the omission, misinterpretation, and misuse of Black Elk's "dual participation" in Catholicism. For Oldmeadow, despite their own outsider worldviews, much of what was problematic about the collaborators (their connection to publishing houses, their Christian background) ingratiated them to Black Elk, and his descendants who saw the collaborators as colleagues and preservers. Readers interested in Black Elk will find this book an effective synthesis of the scholarship on the mystic's life.