The Vision and Legacy of Nicholas Black Elk

Few Native American elders have achieved the iconic status of Nicholas Black Elk. Many know his early life through the 1932 classic Black Elk Speaks: Crazy Horse’s cousin, raised on the plains hunting buffalo, and fought at the Battle of Little Bighorn and at Wounded Knee. Since 2018, the world has learned about the second part of his life through the cause for his canonization in the Catholic Church. In this presentation, Dr. Costello will discuss how Black Elk became a prominent Catholic leader with an unexpected and striking vision. Amid a collapsing world due to oppressive Western colonialism, Black Elk’s vision – at once thoroughly Indigenous and thoroughly Catholic – helped renew his and others’ Lakota understanding of the Spirit World’s creative and healing power. As our current world exhibits increasing signs of collapse, might Black Elk’s vision serve as a beacon of hope?


Part 2: “Indigenous Sources for Christian Worldviews and Ways of Living” (Feb. 23, 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m.)

Damian Costello received his Ph.D. in theological studies from the University of Dayton and specializes in the intersection of Catholic theology, Indigenous spiritual traditions, and colonial history from a postcolonial perspective. He is an internationally-recognized expert on the life and legacy of Nicholas Black Elk and the author of Black Elk: Colonialism and Lakota Catholicism (Orbis Books, 2005). Costello’s work is informed by five years of ethnographic work on the Navajo Nation. His recent publications include “Indigenous Peoples are filling in the gaps in our Catholic faith” (America, 2019) and “Black Elk, the Lakota Medicine Man turned Catholic Teacher, is promoted for Sainthood” (America, 2017). Costello served as an academic advisor and associate producer for the documentary “Walking the Good Red Road: Nicholas Black Elk’s Journey to Sainthood” (NewGroup Media, 2020), which aired on ABC affiliates in 2020 and in which he appeared. Costello is on the faculty of the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS), and is a founding member and the American co-chair of the Indigenous Catholic Research Fellowship (ICRF).

This program will be an online event open to the public. Registration is optional.Sponsored and organized by the Jay Phillips Center for Interreligious Studies at the University of St. Thomas and the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning at Saint John’s University, with generous support from Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota.


Feb 16 2021


11:45 am - 12:45 pm

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St. Paul
St. Paul
Jay Phillips Center for Interreligious Studies


Jay Phillips Center for Interreligious Studies
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