"Knowledge can be learned, but until it is truly experienced, it does not become wisdom."
Selo Black Crow
Oglala Lakota Hereditary Chief and Spiritual Leader
Hearing Grandpa Selo Black Crow (1932-2004) speak on three different occasions in Colorado has been one of the highlights of my life over the past several decades. Selo's spirit of gentle wisdom, humor and persistence in defending the rights of his people has affected me deeply. Soft-spoken and loving yet fierce, Selo's presence taught me by example what being an elder is really all about. I hope that I can embody some of his qualities in my own life and with the people I serve in the empowerment of their spiritual growth. Here is a section from his obituary, written in 2004:
"Selo Black Crow, respected leader of the Oglala Lakota People, lived his life for the People, for peace among all people, and for respect for Grandmother Earth. He grew up with guidance from Nicholas Black Elk and, in 1937, his Grandmother Rattling in the Water put him into a vision pit on the family land. This was the beginning of his schooling in the Traditional Lakota spiritual way of life.
"Black Crow, along with Leonard Crow Dog and six other men, brought the Sundance back out of hiding to the Lakota People in 1968, a daring stand against the Federal laws forbidding American Indian religious practices even in that day. Until his death in March, 2004, Black Crow's sundance was held every year since 1968 on his family land near Wanblee, South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
"Selo Black Crow was a Spiritual Advisor to the warriors of the Wounded Knee II conflict during the tumultuous 1970's on the Pine Ridge Reservation, he was instrumental in negotiating a resolution to that conflict, and was, at one time, Spiritual Advisor to Leonard Peltier.
"Kangi Sapa, Selo Black Crow, worked his entire life for his People. A member of numerous treaty councils, he traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Ford and members of the Ford Administration in the efforts to finally gain approval for the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978. He also worked with many prison systems over the years to gain religious rights and ceremonies for prisoners in the United States and Canada.
"In January, 2000, Black Crow was one of the Traditional Elders (all members of the Grass Roots Oglala Oyate) who occupied the Tribal Council Building on the Pine Ridge Reservation in a protest against Federal and Tribal Government corruption.
"Less than two months before his death, Black Crow participated in a successful protest rally to protect the sacred land of Valmont Butte near Boulder, Colorado and to ensure the continuance of the sacred ceremonies held on that land.
"Black Crow was a highly decorated Veteran who served in the military as a Paratrooper and Pathfinder during the Korean War. He was also a buffalo rancher at one time and an award-winning rodeo rider for many years. His favorite event was Bronc Riding. The character of "Grandpa Sam Reaches, the Medicine Man" in the movie, "Thunderheart," was based upon Selo Black Crow.
"On his own at schools, universities, and the United Nations or as a member of groups including treaty councils and the Spiritual Elders of Mother Earth organization or at demonstrations such as those against the nuclear contamination of the land of the Western Shoshone, Selo Black Crow spoke and wrote tirelessly on the need for peace and respect among all people towards each other and towards Earth, our Mother. He worked not only to preserve sacred sites but to also heal and de-toxify the entire planet. He also taught of the true necessity to understand and respect all women, stating that the three most important people in his life were the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Woman, Grandmother Earth, and his own Grandmother. He believed everything of value which he knew was learned from them.
"Black Crow taught that for a man to be a true warrior he must be able to cry, for only in knowing how to cry would a person learn compassion. Above all else, Selo Black Crow taught compassion through example as well as words. A kind, gentle person of great wisdom and never-failing humor, Selo Black Crow will be long remembered by everyone who met him.
Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.