Black Elk, Wallace

Black Elk, Wallace (1921–2004) – An Oglala Lakota who conducted healing and shamanic rituals both for Native and non-Native Americans. His conversations with William Lyon (beginning in 1978) led to the publication of Black Elk: The Sacred Ways of a Lakota (1990), a series of anecdotes about becoming and being a Lakota shaman. In 1973 he and his wife, Grace, were among the first elders to support the occupation of Wounded Knee (site of one of the last massacres of Native Americans by the U.S. military in 1890) by a “Warrior Society” of Native activists of many Nations that became the American Indian Movement (AIM). He is also credited with having been instrumental in the passing of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978. Nonetheless, his willingness to teach a version of Lakota spirituality and neo-shamanism to non-Native people, especially those labeled “Rainbow Warriors,” led to his naming in AIM’s 1984 resolution against those considered disrespectful and exploitative of sacred ceremonies and of the clients they charge to participate. Groups and websites such as Gohiyuhi/Respect and Center for SPIRIT list him among “frauds” and “plastic medicine people.” His take on these conflicting assessments (apart from an encouragement not to engage in conflict) was that he aimed to preserve a “sacred way” while making it accessible to all. The two phases of his life may be marked by his close relationships first with Leonard Crow Dog and then with Sun Bear (Vincent LaDuke). He was not, as he and others have sometimes claimed, the grandnephew of Nicholas Black Elk.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007