Neihardt’s Ghost Dance: The literary creation of Black Elk and Lakota Religion
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Type of Work47 pages
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Native American ceremonies are an integral part of understanding indigenous culture. In the early 1900’s, John Neihardt attempted to better understand the Lakota culture by interviewing Black Elk about the Ghost Dance of 1890. Originally, Neihardt’s intention was to use the information he gathered as a backdrop to his impending novel. Instead, in 1930, he wrote Black Elk Speaks, which was based on the interview of Black Elk on Lakota Culture. Originally, the book was touted as a lens into authentic Native American religion; information that was traditionally internal was made available to outsiders. Throughout decades the book has been accepted as a valuable primary source of indigenous culture. The Lakota Ghost Dance filled a religious void in Lakota culture that resulted from generations of oppression of tribal members by Anglo Americans. The ceremony however, is normally interpreted from the viewpoint of western educated scholars, whereas Lakota viewpoints of the Ghost Dance are normally incorporated as a secondary thought. This is a significant factor when analyzing Black Elk Speaks as a Native American autobiography because the history of Black Elk and the facts used to surround the Ghost Dance of 1890 are passed from a traditionally-educated Anglo poet. Through review of various Native American literary scholars, Neihardt’s book is demonstrated as problematic for many reasons. It is more a reflection of Neihardt’s perspective than that of Black Elk, as the information presented to readers is diluted or otherwise altered and the phrasing is not original to Black Elk himself. Furthermore, the book elevates the perpetual question of authorship and its role in Native American autobiographies.
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