Nicholas Black Elk: Medicine Man, Missionary, Mystic

Feb 6th, 2014 | By | Category: 25-3: Preserving and Protecting Knowledge, Media Reviews

University of Oklahoma Press (2009)
270 pages

Review by Herman A. Peterson

This is the first book-length biography to cover the life history of the famous Lakota holy man. It is based on published primary source material, interviews with Black Elk’s family and friends, as well as Roman Catholic Church records from the period when he was a lay catechist. The book brings together the extant historical record and tells Black Elk’s story in an accessible narrative. Scholars and the general public alike will find this volume appealing.

This is Michael Steltenkamp’s second book on Black Elk, the first being Black Elk: Holy Man of the Oglala (University of Oklahoma Press, 1993). Indeed, Steltenkamp, who himself is a Jesuit priest, has contributed greatly to our understanding of Black Elk’s role as a catechist. Some have questioned the sincerity of Black Elk’s conversion to Roman Catholicism, but not Steltenkamp, who believes firmly the sincerity of his subject’s faith.

So much ink has been spilt about Black Elk that it begs the question of whether another book is really necessary. However, Steltenkamp’s contribution fills a niche not yet occupied. It is a well-written, critical, and scholarly work, yet eminently readable. I recommend it for all tribal colleges and universities.

Herman A. Peterson, D.Min., is the Diné College librarian in Tsaile, Arizona.

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