I wanted to share with anyone who has not already had a chance to read, an unedited excerpt from the original transcript of 'Black Elk Speaks' as recorded on stenograph.
I want to begin by stating the high regard I have for the achievement of this work. It has humble beginnings. A small group of people speaking & sharing together accomplished a great thing. It goes without saying, that 'Black Elk Speaks' is an important work, worthy not only of its place in the realms of literary art, but in the preservation of culture and a people's sacred vision.
Please indulge me as I share a little background for the writing of the book: In May 1931, Poet Laurete John Neihardt and his daughter, Enid sat outside of Black Elk's cabin. Nicholas Black Elk and a gathering of Oglala Elders sat for three weeks, while Black Elk spoke of his life and vision. Nicholas's son, Ben translated while Enid took rapid shorthand. Later the words were transcribed onto a typed record that was later edited and published in 1932. This was during the heart of the great depression. So few copies sold that no royalties could be paid out. It was not until the paperback edition released in 1971, did the book begin to sell. John Neihardt was 90 years old and Nicolas Black Elk had passed over in 1950.
'Comparison of the shorthand and typed transcription with the published version reveals the skill of John Neihardt in transforming the history of one Oglala man into the saga of a prophet - exactly what Nick Black Elk wanted.' - excerpt from 'The Ghost Dance' by Alice Beck Kehoe
In the original transcripts, Black Elk tells of his harrowing account of the Massacre at Wounded Knee, how afterwards he retreated to the camp of Kicking Bear on the fortified butte. When they arrived at Pine Ridge in January 1891 Neihardt ends the narrative of 'Black Elk Speaks' with a final conclusion,
"I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And 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.
And I, to whom so great a vision was given in my youth, - you see me now a pitiful old man who has done nothing, for the nation's hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead."
I believe the terrible event of Wounded Knee stands as an outrage in the consciousness of any person who has eyes to see and ears to hear. These words are poignant and express an important point of view, however, these are Neihardt's words - not the word of Nicolas Black Elk.
Nicolas Black Elk, true to his vision as a Holy Man, only spoke words of hope and shared his dream for the future of his people. What Black Elk said was later published in other sources. It is this excerpt from the original transcript that I would like to share;
"You have heard what I have said about my people. I had been appointed by my vision to be an intercessor of my people with the spirit powers and concerning that I had decided that sometime in the future I'd bring my people out of the black road into the red road (of life). From my experience and from what I know, and in recalling the past from where I was at that time, I could see that it was next to impossible, but there was nothing like trying....
At that time I could see that the hoop was broken and all scattered out and I thought, "I am going to try my best to get my people back into the hoop again." At this time, when I had these things in my mind, I was abroad with strange people. (the time of his travels in Europe, prior to the events at Wounded Knee).... At that time the wilds were vanishing and it seemed the spirits altogether forgot me and I felt almost like a dead man going around - I was actually dead at this time, that's all. In my vision they had predicted that I was chosen to be intercessor for my people so it was up to me to do my utmost for my people and everything that I did not do for my people, it would be my fault. If my people would perish it seemed that it would be my fault. If I were in poverty then my people would also be in poverty, and if I were helpless or died, my people would die also. But it was up to me to scheme a certain way for myself to prosper for the people. If I prosper, my people would also prosper.
I am telling you this, Mr. Neihardt. You know how I felt and what I really wanted to do is for us to make that tree bloom. On this tree (of life) we shall prosper. Therefore my children and yours are relative-like and therefore we shall go back into the hoop and here we'll cooperate and stand as one... Our families will multiply and prosper after we get this tree to blooming."
(DeMallie 1984:293-294) as recalled in 'The Ghost Dance' by Alice Beck Keyhoe
This great vision may not have manifest in the life time Black Elk - but in the world of spirit, the hope remains. The sacred tree is not dead. It is alive and well. It is we who are wandering, trying to find our way back to our source. To build our lives under this great shielding tree is a great dream, let us awaken from our dreaming and this path we will find together .... Under this tree of life we will prosper.