You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our people came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation and so long as the hoop was unbroken the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living centre of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain and the north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The Sky is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball and so are all the stars. The Wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round.
Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood and so it is in everything where power moves. Our tipis were round like the nests of birds and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.
Hehaka Sapa, or Black Elf, belonged to the Oglala division of the Teton Dakota, one of the most powerful branches of the Siouan family. He was born in “the Moon of the Popping Trees (December) on the little Powder River in the winter when the Four Crows were killed in 1863.” Related to the great Chief Crazy Horse, he had known Sitting Bull and Red Cloud and was well acquainted with the early days of his people when they had roamed the Plains; he was also present at the battle of Little Big Horn. Later on in life he travelled with Buffalo Bill to Italy, France and England, where he danced for Queen Victoria. Black Elk possessed unique spiritual power recognized by everyone and had been instructed in his youth in the sacred traditions of his people by the great priests. His father had been a medicine man; several of his brothers also. He spent his last days on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. The passage above is reprinted from his autobiography which he dictated in 1930-31 to Flaming Rainbow. The configuration of the circle, referred to here by Black Elk and in the next several texts, had a fundamental place in Indian life. The passage was reprinted in Touch The Earth: A Self-Portrait of Indian Existence, compiled by T.C. McLuhan in 1987.