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their own religions comes from the data collected by white Indian agents such as James Walker of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The latter was keenly interested in Dakota culture and religion, and recorded what he learned in great detail during the early years of the twentieth century. Elders and leaders of the Dakotas in the late-twentieth-century renaissance of native culture, like Arthur Amiotte, were highly dependent on Walker’s publications. As well, another of the sources drawn upon by both contemporary Dakotas and native studies scholars is John G. Neihardt’s Black Elk Speaks. Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux (1975). (

In August, 1930, Neihardt, a Nebraska poet, met the elderly Black Elk at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. When Black Elk was nine, and the people were moving slowly toward the Rocky Mountains, they camped at a creek which ran into the Little Big Horn River. While he was eating, the boy heard a voice “so loud and clear that I believed it, and I thought I would just go where it wanted me to go.” He then woke from the dream.

“When we had camped again, I was lying in our tepee and my mother and father were sitting beside me. I could see out through the opening, and there two men were coming from the clouds, headfirst like arrows slanting down, and I knew they were the same that I had seen before. Each now carried a long spear, and from the points of these a jagged lightning flashed. They came clear down to the ground this time and stood a little way off and looked at me and said: “Hurry! Come! Your Grandfathers are calling you!”

The vision overwhelmed him:

“I went outside the tepee, and yonder where the men with flaming spears were going, a little cloud was coming very fast. It came and stooped and took me and turned back to where it came from, flying fast. And when I looked down I could see my mother and my father yonder, and I felt sorry to be leaving them.”

Soon he and the two sacred warriors were in the midst of “a great white plain with snowy hills and mountains staring at us; and it was very still; but there were whispers.” The two men with spears took him to the council of the Grandfathers.and “I knew that these were not old men, but the Powers of the World.” One gave him a peace pipe “which had a spotted eagle outstretched upon the stem.” “With this pipe,” the Grandfather said, “you shall walk upon the earth, and whatever sickens there you shall make well.” Another Grandfather spoke:

Behold the earth! . . .From where the giant lives (the north) to where you always face (the south) the red road goes, the road of good. . . and on it shall your nation walk. The black road goes from where the thunder beings live (the west) to where the sun continually shines (the east), a fearful road, a road of troubles and of war. On this also you shall walk, and from it you shall have the power to destroy a peoples’ foes. In four ascents you shall walk the earth with power.

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