Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk: Lakota Holy Man and Catechist We have investigated racism in light of outstanding African Americans who were known for their deep faith and commitment to Catholicism. This month we focus and reflect on the horrors of racism regarding our indigenous brothers and sisters. We reflect on Black Elk or Heȟáka Sápa, which is his Lakota (Sioux) name. Black Elk was known as a visionary of the Oglala Lakota tribe, a traditional healer (Medicine Man) and is a candidate for canonization in the Catholic Church. What took place in the 400 years between Christopher Columbus’ arrival in what became the United States and the birth of Black Elk was horrific. Land grabbing and forced exile by the newly arrived colonists were key to life in the New World. Greed dominated transactions. Treaties were made between the Natives and the colonists and were quickly broken or disregarded. It was commonly thought that only Christian people were fit to inhabit the New World. Black Elk was born in what is now Wyoming. Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, and part of both Dakotas were then known as Lakota Territory. Like his father, Black Elk was a warrior. He participated in both the Battle of Little Big Horn and the massacre at Wounded Knee. After Wounded Knee, his tribe was forced to live on a reservation. The Lakota became impoverished and prisoners on their own land that had been granted them by a treaty. At age five, Black Elk had the first of two visions. It was revealed to him in his visions that he was destined to become a powerful leader. He believed that he was commanded to save his people and the planet. Black Elk grew up participating in indigenous religion. His first wife converted to Catholicism; in 1904, shortly after his wife’s death, Black Elk was baptized and raised his children as Catholics. The story of his baptism is told that as a Lakota Medicine Man (healer), Black Elk, along with a local Jesuit missionary, were both called to the tent of a seriously ill young boy. Black Elk, using his drum and tobacco, began to sing, calling on the spirits to heal the boy. In the midst of the tribal ceremony, Father Joseph Lindbender, SJ, arrived. He was horrified of the pagan ways of this ceremony. The sick boy had been baptized. The priest did his healing ritual and invited Black Elk back to Holy Rosary Mission. Two weeks later Black Elk was baptized Nicholas Black Elk. Nicholas Black Elk continued as a Lakota Medicine Man and as a Catholic Catechist. He was known to use both his pipe and his rosary on a regular basis while praying. He was able to integrate both the Lakota and Catholic religions into his spirituality. In 2016, Nicolas Black Elk’s grandson, George Look Twice, petitioned a bishop to consider him for canonization. Resources Black Elk cannonization website https://blackelkcanonization.com Film on Black Elk https://blackelkcanonization.com/black-elk-documentary/ Historia Magazine Article by Alec Marsh, 25 October 2021 https://www.historiamag.com/black-elk-lakota-sioux-holy-man-warrior-survivor/ Lecture by Greg Salyer, PhD (President of the Philosophical Research Society) for series “Voices of Wisdom from Native Cultures” https://youtu.be/5mdgv2kfqTs Lecture by historian Damian Costello “The Legacy of Nicholas Black Elk.” Costello is also author of the book Black Elk: Colonialism and Lakota Catholicism (Orbis Books) https://blackelkcanonization.com Knights of Columbus Article https://www.kofc.org/en/news-room/columbia/2021/september/knights-of-the-heights.html Reflection Questions 1. What interests you most abut the life of Nicholas Black Elk? 2. Name other noteworthy Indigenous people you are aware of. 3. If you have ever visited a Native American reservation, recall what life was like for our Indigenous brothers and sisters. Prayer Prayer of Nicholas Black Elk Grandfather, Great Sacred One, you have been always, and before you nothing has been. There is nothing to pray to but you. The star nations all over the universe are yours, and yours are the grasses of the earth. Day in and day out, you are the life of things. You are older than all need, older than all pain and prayer. Grandfather, all over the world the faces of the living ones are alike. In tenderness they have come up out of the ground. Look upon your children with children in their arms, that they may face the winds, and walk the good road to the day of quiet. Teach me to walk the soft earth, a relative to all that live. Sweeten my heart and fill me with light, and give me the strength to understand and the eyes to see. Help me, for without you I am nothing. Amen. © Diocese of Rapid City. Used with permission.