Religion at Pine Ridge Reservation

Lakota panel discusses religion and education at Pine Ridge

April 3, 2019
Hannah Wilmott '21

LakotaCatholicThe Edmundite Center for Peace and Justice sponsored a YOU COUNT event discussion panel about “Nicholas Black Elk, Lakota Spirituality, and Catholicism on the Pine Ridge Reservation” on Thursday, March 28 in the Roy Event Room at the Dion Family Student Center. The panelists included Jerald Swope, department chair and associate professor of Media Studies, Journalism and Digital Art at Saint Michael’s College; Damian Costello, author of Black Elk: Colonialism and Lakota Catholicism; and Robert Brave Heart Sr., executive vice president at the Red Cloud Indian School, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The three panelists discussed a wide array of topics ranging from the Lakota culture at the Red Cloud Indian School to the three stages of Nicolas Black Elk’s Life.

Professor Jerald Swope had taught at Red Cloud Indian School where Robert Brave Heart Sr. currently serves as executive vice president at this time and with which Nicolas Black Elk was affiliated. Swope put emphasis on not only Catholic teachings but bringing in Lakota spirituality. Red Cloud is making a huge attempt to revitalize the language.

“We produced the first ever Kindergarten through 12th grade Lakota language curriculum,” said Brave Heart Sr. “We hired an independent researcher to do an independent research evaluation about the Lakota language project. Their findings have been terrific. Children at Red Cloud are having a stronger cultural identity and self-esteem, as well as performance in the classroom, the behavior in the classroom.”

Nicolas Black Elk inspired people who want to participate in the ceremonies and come from all over to Pine Ridge — he is a great figure and a holy man, the panelists said.

Damian Costello, who spent five years living in the Navajo reservation, discussed the three stages of Nicolas Black Elk’s life, saying how Nicholas Black Elk was a prime example of someone who had walked in both the worlds of Christianity and the Lakota. Those three three stages, Costello said, consisted of Black Elk’s vision at the age of nine and his life as a healer, as well as his Catholic life, including becoming a catechist from 1887-1889, and in the third stage he served as a cultural revivalist (1932). The three stages in his life had often overlapped. Costello said Nicolas Black Elk was a prime example of someone who walked in both ways of the Lakota and Catholic way of life.

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