A vice postulator for the canonization effort of Nicholas Black Elk spoke to a crowd Thursday morning in Rapid City about what to expect next on the Lakota holy man's path toward potential sainthood.
"We hope to know by Easter," said Bill White, a native of Rockyford, a Catholic lay minister and Oglala Lakota man who — like Black Elk — said he walks both a Catholic and Lakota way. He spoke Thursday morning at the Morning Fill Up, a monthly conversation series sponsored by the Numad Group and Bush Foundation, updating the community about a recent visit by an official from Rome.
"Father (Luis) Escalante spent three days in the Black Hills a few months ago," said White. "When he talked with me, he summed it all up like this: 'Nicholas Black Elk was living in heaven long before his death.'"
Now back in Rome, Escalante is working on a position paper for the case of Nicholas Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota holy man credited with leading prayer and dispensing eucharist on Pine Ridge as well as bringing more than 400 Native Americans to Catholicism.
If declared "venerable," Nicholas Black Elk will then be available to intercede on behalf of the faithful in prayer. If two miracles are documented — usually established via a turnaround in a medically hopeless situation — then, the case could be made for sainthood.
"I hope I'm not 117 years old," said White, laughing. "But it'll be 15 years at least (after this coming Easter)."
White, who is studying to become a deacon in the Rapid City Diocese, disputes the idea that the Catholic Church is behind the push for Black Elk's cause.
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"This is coming from Native American people to open this cause," he said.
Matt Ehlman, who hosted Thursday's conversation attended by a full house, noted that if Black Elk did achieve sainthood status, he'd be the third indigenous person to become a saint. Juan Diego, credited with having witnessed an apparition of the Virgin Mary, and St. Kateri Tekakwitha, an Algonquin-Mohawk laywoman, have been declared saints by the Catholic Church.
Ehlman asked if Nicholas Black Elk's eastern Wyoming birthplace or grave in Manderson might become a pilgrimage site.
"Even now, there are a lot of people who visit the resting spot of Nicholas Black Elk," said White. "They bring dirt from his graves. They are praying to Nicholas, praying for his intercessory power to get the miracles happening."
White said Black Elk encouraged the hybrid of both a Lakota and Catholic way.
"You can pray with a pipe and a rosary and with equal enthusiasm," said White, who finds Black Elk's pursuit of unity inspiring.