Essay Black Elk: Uniting Christianity and the Lakota Religion

Essay Black Elk: Uniting Christianity and the Lakota Religion

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Black Elk: Uniting Christianity and the Lakota Religion


The Battle at Little Bighorn River, the Massacre at Wounded Knee and the Buffalo Bill Show are historical events that even Europeans have in mind when they think about the Wild West and the difficult relationship between the first settlers and the Native American Indians. But what do these three events have in common? The easiest answer is that the Battle, the Massacre and the Buffalo Bill Show all involved Native Americans.

However, another answer is not so obvious, because it needs deeper knowlege: There was one small Indian, who was a participant in all three events. His name was Black Elk, and nobody would have known about him unless John Neihardt had not published Black Elk Speaks which tells about his life as a medicine man. Therefore, Black Elk is famous as the typical Indian who grew up in the traditional Plains life, had trouble with the Whites, and ended up in the reservation period. There is no question that even up to now his life sounds rather remarkable.

Nevertheless, his life becomes much more facinating when the fact is introduced that Black Elk converted to Catholicism and even became a catechist, afterwards. This completely does not fit into the sterotype of the frustrated reservation Indian, who spent his time with alcohol and gambling. Therefore, one question is emerging. How could Black Elk balance Native American spirituality with Western Christianity? This question directly leads us to the spiritual level of Black Elk’s life. As can be seen in the following, his religion changes in a natural development from his native Lakota religion to Catholicism.

However, in order to prove this, a good start is Black Elk's biography:

In December ...


... middle of paper ...


...Black Elk mentioned both as a way of leading to the birth of Jesus Christ (105).

Therefore, for Black Elk his native religion is a second parallel way to Christianity besides the way of the Israelites. This contradicts Holler's opinion that Black Elk united the Catholic Christianity and Lakota religion (Irvine 204). On the other hand, Black Elk's idea of the relationship between the two religions is much closer to Steinmetz, who said, that Black Elk integrated "the two religious traditions on a deep emotional and even unconscious level" (42).

Works Cited

Irvine, Lee. "Black Elk's Religion: The Sun Dance and Lacota's Catholicim." {American Culture and Research Journal}

Neihardt, John G. {Black Elk Speaks}. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979.

Steltenkamp, Michael F. {Black Elk, Holy Man of the Oglala}. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993.

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