Black Elk’s Prayer

Black Elk and John Neihardt, 1945

In 1962, while at the University of Missouri, John Neihardt videotaped his course titled “Epic America” for continued use in the classroom after he retired from the university. During one class lecture, he recited his prayer-poem he called Black Elk’s Prayer. Neihardt wrote the prayer shortly after the 1931 historic talks he had with Black Elk at Pine Ridge Reservation that resulted in the book, Black Elk Speaks.

Black-Elk-on- Harney Peak-1931
Black Elk prays on Harney Peak, 1931

He was able to capture in poetic form what the great Sioux holy man was relating to him in Lakota conversation. Below┬áis a video of the recitation of the Black Elk’s Prayer he gave to his class in 1962. In the video, as he is reciting the Prayer, he gives added emphasis and great insight into the meaning of the prayer. A great portion of his adult life was spent working with and communing with Native Americans, and Neihardt grew to truly understand the idiom and their great culture.

The picture in the upper left is of Black Elk and John Neihardt in 1945. The picture on the right is Black Elk in 1931 praying on Harney Peak. In his great vision, Black Elk was painted entirely in the sacred color red. Since Neihardt’s daughters were present at the time, Black Elk’s modesty prompted him to wear red long underwear instead of painting his naked body. The photo was taken by Neihardt.