Graduation Year


Date of Thesis Acceptance

Spring 5-9-2018

Major Department or Program

Environmental Humanities


Don Snow; Stan Thayne


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.

Page Count


Subject Headings

Black Elk -- 1863-1950 -- Black Elk Speaks‚ Neihardt, John G. -- 1881-1973‚ Bringhurst, Robert‚ Lakota Indians -- 19th century‚ Poetics‚ Indians of North America -- Personal narratives‚ Cultural appropriation‚ Authorship -- Collaboration‚ Translations -- Moral and ethical aspects‚ Environmental sciences‚ Humanities‚ Whitman College 2018 -- Dissertation collection -- Environmental Humanities

Permanent URL

Document Type

Whitman Community Accessible Thesis



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