“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that its center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.”
Black Elk (1863-1950), whose Indian name was Hehaka Sapa, was a renowned Oglala Sioux spiritual leader and medicine man. He was the second cousin of Crazy Horse. Black Elk participated, at about the age of twelve, in the Battle of Little Big Horn of 1876, and was wounded in the massacre that occurred at Wounded Knee in 1890. He left the reservation in 1886 and toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Europe, returning in 1889.
Black Elk married his first wife, Katie War Bonnett, in 1892. She became a Catholic, and all three of their children were baptized as Catholic. After her death in 1903, he too became baptized, taking the name Nicholas Black Elk, and continued to serve as a spiritual leader among his people, seeing no contradiction in embracing what he found valid in both his tribal traditions concerning Wakan Tanka (The Great Spirit), and those of Christianity.
Black Elk met the poet John Neihardt in 1930, a meeting that resulted in the book Black Elk Speaks (1932). Black Elk dictated his autobiography to Neihardt and recounted Lakota history and traditions in an effort to preserve them. In 1947, Joseph Epes Brown met Black Elk in Nebraska. Brown spent the next winter with the elderly spiritual teacher in Manderson, South Dakota. Through that contact and their conversations, Black Elk provided the details of seven traditional rituals of the Oglala people which Brown published as The Sacred Pipe. The rites described included the purification ceremony (the sweat lodge), crying for a vision, female puberty, marriage, soul-keeping, throwing the ball, and the greatest medicine of all traditional Plains people, the Sun Dance.