Church wants sainthood for Black ElkBy Cecily Hilleary
Voice of America
Special to Native Sun News Today
nativesunnews.today WASHINGTON — Last month, U.S. Catholic bishops voted unanimously to pursue sainthood for Oglala Lakota healer and visionary Nicholas Black Elk, who is credited with bringing hundreds of Native Americans to the Catholic faith. It is the realization of a dream for Catholic Lakota on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, among them, some of Black Elk’s descendants. But not everyone one supports the move, mindful of the Church’s role in the historic suppression of indigenous cultures. Most of what is known about Black Elk is derived from an autobiography dictated to writer John Neihart in 1932, “Black Elk Speaks.” He was born in present-day Wyoming in December, 1863, according to the Lakota calendar, and given the name of Hehaka Sapa, literally, “Black Elk.” Black Elk grew up during the period of American settler expansion into the West and the U.S. governments forced removal of Native Americans onto reservations. During this time, missionaries from various Christian denominations flocked to reservations in order to “save” Native souls. Catholic priests of the Jesuit order — called “black robes” by Lakota — established a mission at Pine Ridge. Black Elk’s childhood was punctuated by religious visions which led him to later serve as a wicasha wakan, a traditional healer and spiritual leader. Black Elk announced his vocation in 1881, but after the U.S. government banned many Native American religious practices, he was forced to go underground. “The Jesuits could tolerate Lakota spirituality and practice, but they did not like the healing ceremonies,” said Damian M. Costello, author of Black Elk: Colonialism and Lakota Catholicism. “They saw them as calling in spirits in an inappropriate way.” In 1904, Costello explained, a Jesuit priest angrily interrupted Black Elk while he was performing a healing ceremony. “In the aftermath of that, Black Elk was invited to Holy Rosary Mission, and he stayed there, learned about the faith and was eventually baptized," he said. Black Elk took the Christian name of Nicholas, after the 4th century healer, St. Nicholas. For the next 40 years, he served as a Church catechist, or lay cleric, and is said to have brought more than 400 Native Americans to the Catholic faith.