Black Elk Plants

Nicholas Black Elk (1863 – 1950), an Oglala Lakota visionary and “medicine man,” told his life story to John G. Neihardt in 1931. In Black Elk Speaks, Neihardt preserved the Great Vision that has become a guiding and sacred image for the Lakota and other First Nations, and for all people with open eyes and hearts. During that vision, the 9-year-old Black Elk

“took the bright red stick and at the center of the nation’s hoop I thrust it into the earth. As it touched the earth it leapt mightily in my hand and was a waga chun, the rustling tree, very tall and full of leafy branches and of all birds singing.”

The sacred place seen in that vision was Harney Peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and the sacred waga chun was the indigenous cottonwood (Populus deltoides), the sacred tree of the Sun Dance and other Lakota rituals.

cottonwood Saunders County

Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) in Saunders County, Nebraska. Photo by Robert Smith.

The sacred cottonwood embodied the identity, history, and hopes of the Lakota not only because it appeared to Black Elk in his vision, but because the cottonwood embodied the earth community to which they belonged. The Lakota Nation, like the local cottonwood, belongs to the land that gave them birth and life; they belong to one native community that is bound forever to that land and to each other. This vision speaks to all who love and belong to the wild earth.

How to Plant a Sacred (Native) Tree with Jack Phillips. Sunday, January 24th, 2-4pm. John G. Neihardt State Historical Park, Bancroft, Nebraska.This event is free and everyone is welcome. Contact Amy Kucera at for more information, directions, and to register. This is an indoor and outdoor native tree workshop. Please dress for native weather.