Benjamin Black Elk

(1899-1973)

Son of Lakota Sioux shaman Nicholas Black Elk (1863 – 1950)

via Regina Ochoa, August 8, 2020

 

"A shaman does not have to belong to a Native Nation. ... A shaman can be

your mother, father,  grandfather,  grandmother and so on, who share

with you a life force greater than any nourishment you may receive

by mouth. It is a life force for seeking truth and vision."

Too often, when a man dies their image grows disproportionately. Greater than life, one may say. That is how I appear to many.

 

I was a man. Not a great man, not a humble man, just a man.  I lived my life with many of the trials and pains of others who walked among us. I brandished weapons of hate and honor. 

 

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It is difficult for me to stand before you and see the misfortunes brought down upon so many. My Nation, Lakota Sioux, have had their share of sorrow. But now their lives are burdened even more heavily. They see their families and friends devoured not only through substance abuse but also their loss of direction. For not only do we each need purpose, but also direction that shows us the way. 

 

We are individual Nations, but the Census dictates that we are not allowed to be regarded as individual nations. In countries that label us "Native Americans" we are shoved to the perimeter, living without a status of race or culture. Our own Nations -- Sioux, Ojibwa, Iroquois, Mandan, Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, Nez Perce and the many others, have no rights in a land where individuals are identified as a people according to their nation. Therefore, the natives have no status, no claims, are "less than" and will remain "less than" as long as these North and South American republics see fit to keep it that way. This represents a problem on a global scale. 

 

People of Native Nations are considered non-essential, unimportant. We know this to be false because many are the undocumented workers -- the 'untouchables,' considered unclean and non-sacred -- who keep the wheels of labor greased.  

 

I come to share with you that we are people. We are human. We are a part of the whole. Mankind. Humanity. Born of man and woman, we exist. How can this existence be so invisible? 

 

Today our descendants have no way, no direction. No compass to journey within to find their warrior, their healer, their spirit animal or totem. They cannot find their self. They cannot find purpose without direction.

 

Worldwide, great leaders of the many indigenous Nations continue to help the many who have lost their way.  But with our continued crises the world will lose these elders—our Great-Grandmothers and Great-Grandfathers who carry life force in their amulet pouch. I speak not of a physical bag of tricks and potions, but of the container that holds the spirit and creation of the whole. 

 

Those great shamans are carriers of the world's soul. They share fire, water, earth and wind in their pouches. Those shamans, who have stepped forward to bring healing to a world in strife, cannot continue without your support and love. See them. They are not invisible. 

 

A shaman does not have to belong to a Native Nation. You know of a shaman. There may be one or many in your life. A shaman can be your mother, father,  grandfather,  grandmother and so on, who share with you a life force greater than any nourishment you may receive by mouth. It is a life force for seeking truth and vision. 

 

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When I was a young man I was sent out to seek my visions. I received my spirit animal and saw my guide. In my dream, we walked for a long time. I found myself lost when I awoke. 

"How can this be?" I asked myself. "I've just met my guide and my spirit animal. Am I not 'knowing? Have I not found my way?" 

 

Lost, I walked further into the wilderness. My stomach ached for food and my mouth was dry of thirst. I stumbled a bit, picking my way across the land. In the Lakota country, there are a great many obstacles to navigate. 

 

I came upon a white river. The dirt and washings along the river can be like clay when it sticks to the bottom of your moccasins. It slowly builds layer upon layer so that soon you are a few inches higher than you were just several footsteps before. That clay, I realized, gave me a vantage point. Suddenly I was taller. I had walked through the damp, sticky mud many times before, and it was always an inconvenience. This time, I rather liked it. 

 

I continued to walk along the river bed. Only now, I was trying to make the clay stick to the last layer that plastered onto my feet coverings. "How tall can I get?" I was somewhat pleased with this newly discovered point of view. I was nearing the height of my father, or so it felt. He always seems to tower above me.  Often, when he talked with me,  I would look up to see the dark black circles of his nostrils. I wondered what I would see now when I looked up at him?

 

Finally, I could not take another step without losing all my new height as it slipped out from under the weight of my lanky brown body. I stopped. Looked around from my new height. I felt powerful. 

 

Almost fully grown. I felt that if someone might meet me at this very riverbed, he may think me a man, not a boy. 

 

In that very thought, I became a man. 

 

It is all about perspective. How one thinks or believes oneself to be. I was no longer lost. I knew my way. Not from familiar landmarks or imagined memories. But from deep within.

 

My vision quest sent me out a boy. I returned a man. 

 

I looked around, my feet still caked in the white mud of the river's edge, I could see the footsteps I took with each step I grew. I was shown the very moment I became a man. My vision was not what I saw when I was thirsty or hungry, but who I saw when I was no longer lost and afraid. I saw who I am, a Lakota who can see my father for his eyes and his wisdom. I will see my family for the love they provide me through the nourishment of their knowledge and truth. 

 

I carry this story today, here in the world above your earthly existence. It reminds me that a human being is part of the whole. 

 

Clay made of earth and water helped me see myself a man, the wind on my back and fire in the sky directed me home.   

 

Go into the belly of mother earth to find your spirit animal, and journey to the world above to seek your guides. Then walk the land to hear Grandmother and Grandfather Spirit speak. Many shamans walk with you. They traverse both sides of the doorway into your inner being. Listen. 

 

The fire, the wind, the water, and the earth are calling. Listen. They bring you food for your heart and your mind. They bring nourishment to feed your spirit. Eat and drink, for their bounty is unlimited. 

 

Nourish your soul. 

 

Benjamin Black Elk

Lakota Sioux Nation