Born: Dec. 1st, 1863
Died: Aug. 19th, 1950
FEast: Aug. 19th
S.O.G. Nicholas Black Elk
Black Elk was born into an Oglala Lakota Sioux family full of healers. He watched as the landscape around him began to change with the coming of the European colonists who were eradicating the buffalo that were so central to his family's lives. He was frequently sick as a child, and when he was 9 years old, during a particularly bad illness, he witnessed a vision. In this vision, he meets six "grandfathers" who teach him wisdom and take him to the center of the world where there is a sacred tree that represents all of humanity. He sees his future as a healer, and is also told of coming strife.
In 1876, he witnessed the Battle of Little Bighorn, and then, later, the murder of his second cousin Crazy Horse. He grew to be a healer on the new Pine Ridge Reservation, and was well-respected in his community by the age of 19, but in in 1886, he was recruited to join Buffalo Bill Cody's touring Wild West show. Black Elk decided to join with the hopes that he might be able to understand the world of the colonizers better, thereby figuring out how to relieve the suffering and oppression of the indigenous people. He toured the country and even Europe for several years before returning to Pine Ridge. Upon this return, he found his community was greatly suffering, with even more land having been taken away from them and disease and famine spreading throughout. To fight this, he joined a growing movement called "Ghost Dance", in which its members believed that performing traditional indigenous rituals would cause the Europeans to leave the country and bring back the bison herds. Since these practices had been outlawed by the US government, the settlers were growing wary of this movement, and, in retaliation, arrested many leaders including Sitting Bull. Then, two weeks later, a Sioux encampment at Wounded Knee Creek was ambushed and brutally killed despite being unarmed and consisting mostly of women and children. More than 200 were murdered, and Black Elk, though not present for the massacre, aided victims and helped rescue survivors. He engaged in retaliation efforts until convinced to surrender by Chief Red Cloud.
Black Elk remained on the reservation. He created a show to teach tourists about Lakota culture, unlike the previous shows he had been a part of that had instead glorified historic war and violence. He also was married to a woman who was a converted Catholic, and their three children were baptized. In 1904, Black Elk converted as well and took the name Nicholas Black Elk. He married again after his first wife passed away, and she and their children were also Catholic. He was asked to serve as a catechist in the Catholic Church, while also remaining a spiritual leader for the Lakota.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Black Elk was interviewed by John Neihardt and Joseph Epes Brown, who published the books Black Elk Speaks and The Sacred Pipe, respectively. While criticized for exaggeration and invention, the books became popular in the 1970s and are still widely read today. In 2017, The Catholic Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota opened the case for Nicholas Black Elk's canonization.
wHAT wOULD HE CARE ABOUT TODAY?
Black Elk Wilderness
Enable us to follow your example and take who we are and what we are and all we have lived through into our faith tradition. Allow us never to forget our heritage, our family, and our story even when it comes to our religion, and allow us to use these things to make it fuller and more honest. Let us embrace these parts of ourselves.
Pictured here are elements of the clothing that Black Elk wore in photographs taken of him, but in 21st century alternatives. His hat is replaced by a bucket hat, but one featuring an element of his headdress. He also wears a scarf and vest similar to the ones in real images of him. the colors are those of earth and elements that were so present in his visions, and his large, deep eyes are suggestive of the visions as well.