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Catherine Palczewski


In 1930, John Neihardt went to South Dakota to interview a Native American religious man about the ghost dance religion. When he got there, he discovered a 79 year old Oglala Lakota man named Black Elk who wanted to share his religious visions with the author. Neihardt was excited about the possibility of writing down the story and postponed his other work to interview Black Elk. These interviews turned into Black Elk Speaks. Although its first copyright was in 1931, Black Elk Speaks has been reprinted many times since then. My thesis is about the relationship between Neihardt and Black Elk--both as writer/speaker and as men. This relationship parallels the relationship between the dominant culture in the United States and Native American ones. It also parallels the relationship between two people that believe they are spiritually connected. Because Neihardt was not fully aware of Black Elk's Native American perspective, and because he adapted the text, I argue that Black Elk Speaks does not represent Native American cultures. I do however, offer the possibility that spiritual transcendence, especially given a Native American perspective of traditional storytelling, makes Black Elk Speaks a fantastic text that should continue to represent the powerful spiritual relationship between Neihardt and Black Elk.

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