As a child in the American school system, I was taught, from a very young age, a romanticized version of the interactions between early white settlers and Native American people. Every fall, my mind was saturated with stories of cooperation, kindness, and friendship. As I progressed through school, the sweater began unraveling and I started to understand that the white man had been cruel, calloused, and abusive. The truth that I had known for so long was revealed to be not much more than a fictional story.
Black Elk Speaks provided me with an entirely new perspective. I reached a new understanding of this time in history through the eyes of a Native American. In the end, I realized that the truth is that the Wasichu's (white man's) greed and lust for power marginalized the Native American culture and ultimately destroyed countless lives, families, and communities. The book spoke to me of happier times when the native people of America were free to live.
Strong family bonds and spirituality made Lakota life peaceful. Black Elk's story took place in a time when the children of earth were still conscious of nature and life and all the really important things that we take for granted presently. VanderMoere 2 Paradise began to crumble with the arrival of the white man. Greed and power-lust followed the Wasichus, bearing gifts of ignorance and disrespect. The whites were ignorant to the fact that we are all brothers and sisters together sharing this earth, and we must respect her. Sacred land was shoveled away during the mass migration to the west around the time of the gold rush, which fueled the indifferent greed.
Black Elk refers to this gold as "the yellow metal that makes the Wasichus crazy; and that is what made the bad trouble... ". (Neihardt, 60). Along with the greed for gold came the desire for land.
It was not enough to share land with the natives, the white man had to own it. Many natives were run out of there rightful land through manipulation, threats, and deceit. Others were coerced in to denying their heritage and simply obeying the rules and regulations of the white culture. Because of the harsh oppression and alienation, much of the ancient Lakota religion suffered. When spirituality did begin to grow again, the Wasichus responded by enforcing restrictions on religious ceremonies and sacred dances. To attempt, as a human, to control the spirituality of another is a blatant play for power and indicative of arrogance and convictions of supremacy.
A prime example of this is when the Lakota people were preparing for a ceremonial dance to depict a vision and Black Elk recalls, "There came to us... a message from the soldiers that this matter of the ghost dance must be looked into, and that there should be rulings over it; and that they did not mean to take the dance away from us. But could we believe anything the Wasichus ever said to us? They spoke with forked tongues". (Neihardt, 193) VanderMoere 3 This book has been extremely educational and devastating at the same time. It has bred many emotions inside of me from peacefulness in the beginning of Black Elks story, to anger at the actions of my European ancestors, to shame at being a white American and knowing that reservations are still an accepted institution in America.
The rightful heirs to this land continue to be mistreated and ignored. America may well be a great nation in the opinion of many, but we rarely stop to think what life might be like if man had never known such social constructs as power and greed. Our whit ancestors were so blinded by these afflictions that they never realized that what they were killing off was something so much simpler, and yet so much more human.