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Ecological linguistics and fraught historicity in Black Elk Speaks : a thesis in environmental humanities
Gardner W. Dee
May 9, 2018
Department or Program
This thesis explores the fraught history and contested status of the book Black Elk Speaks, produced from a series of interviews between the Nebraskan poet John G. Neihardt and the Oglala Lakota holy man Nicholas Black Elk, in the spring and summer of 1931. After providing historical background on the settler-colonial violence endured by the Lakota Sioux people from 1860-1890, I apply the linguistic theory of Canadian poet and translator Robert Bringhurst to the content of Black Elk Speaks. Bringhurst posits a radical theory of poetics and argues for a wider conception of what constitutes literature that includes more Native American narratives. I also set Black Elk Speaks against a backdrop of complex intellectual debates regarding the authenticity of Native texts and the ramifications of cultural appropriation for creative license. I examine how Black Elk Speaks can be read productively despite the problematic conditions of its production and argue that the book should rightfully be included in the canon of great Native American literature.