(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Black Elk Speaks is a well-known text both for non-Native American readers who wish to study the Oglala Sioux culture and for Native American youths who are searching for their roots. Black Elk and Neihardt present a picture of the Sioux people during a time of considerable conflict caused by confrontation between the European and Sioux cultures. The details of these conflicts highlight the important differences between attitudes toward land, values, customs, and religion. For example, when Black Elk emphasizes conflicts over land, he compares the happy summers before the “big trouble” to reservation life and the loss of the Black Hills because of the Wasichus’ (white people’s) desire for gold. The following quote exemplifies Black Elk’s ability to illuminate the diverse attitudes toward land and animals:Once we were happy in our own country and we were seldom hungry, for then the two-leggeds and the four-leggeds lived together like relatives, and there was plenty for them and for us. But the Wasichus came, and they have made little islands for us and other little islands for the four-leggeds, and always these islands are becoming smaller, for around them surges the gnawing flood of the Wasichu; and it is dirty with lies and greed.

Black Elk’s attitude toward the loss of land and the impoverishment of his people corresponds with historical research that documents the demise of many Native American populations in the 1800’s. Black...

(The entire section is 564 words.)