Oglala Sioux Leader, Maka Black Elk, Selected for FADICA’s 2021 Catholic Leadership Award

Thursday July 29, 2021

(Washington, DC) –

Maka Akan Najin Black Elk, a leader in Native American and Catholic education for truth, healing and reconciliation, has been unanimously selected by the FADICA Board of Directors as the recipient of the organization’s 2021 Distinguished Catholic Leadership Award. The Distinguished Catholic Leadership Award recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding initiative, a spirit of service and visionary leadership in contributing to the renewal and vitality of the Catholic Church.   

In selecting Maka Black Elk for this award, FADICA identified Black Elk’s courageous leadership to address historical trauma and racial justice through the significant truth and healing process at Red Cloud Indian School, a Jesuit institution on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota; his faith-filled and inclusive approach to healing and reconciliation; and his leadership in the American Indian Catholic Schools Network and the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. With this recognition, Black Elk joins past award recipients who inspire greater leadership and service among Catholics for the Church and the common good.

“Maka Akan Najin Black Elk is a person of deep faith, who is putting Catholic values into action to build a future of hope and healing,” said Alexia Kelley, President and CEO of FADICA, the leading philanthropic peer network serving as a catalyst for a vital Catholic Church and the common good. “Mr. Black Elk is leading ground-breaking and critical work at the local and national level for truth and reconciliation in our Church and our country,” said Kelley.

Black Elk graduated from the University of San Francisco and then earned a Master’s degree in Peace and Human Rights Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, as well as a Master’s in Educational Leadership from the University of Notre Dame. 

He is a citizen of Oglala Lakota Nation in South Dakota, a descendent of boarding school survivors, and a graduate of Red Cloud Indian School.  Black Elk later served as a teacher and educational administrator at Red Cloud Indian School before assuming his current role. 

As Executive Director for Truth and Healing at Red Cloud Indian School, Black Elk’s responsibilities include organizing, planning, supporting, and guiding the larger institution in engagement with the community in a truth and healing process related to the oppression caused by the historical boarding school experience.  He provides professional development, training, and dialogue opportunities on a range of topics including racial reconciliation, and partners with community groups, tribal governments, and nonprofits to develop a network of support.

“I am truly humbled and honored by FADICA’s vote of confidence for the work I support,” said Black Elk. “I strongly believe that the Catholic Church should broadly recognize the need for us as a faith community to engage in the sacramental calling for reconciliation. My hope is that we more closely live out a faith that does justice.”

In a recent article on the history of Red Cloud Indian School by the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, writer MegAnne Liebsch explains:

“[Red Cloud Indian School] was historically a part of a national U.S. policy to assimilate indigenous peoples into white American culture. Through its Indian Boarding School Policy, the federal government compelled attendance at boarding schools where students were prohibited from speaking their language or practicing their culture. An estimated 100,000 children attended these schools — many of which were run by Catholic religious orders.”

The Jesuits offered an official apology to the Lakota people in 1993.

The 2021 Distinguished Catholic Leadership Award will be presented to Maka Akan Najin Black Elk at FADICA’s 2021 Symposium and Annual Spiritual Retreat which will be held in Minneapolis, Minn., October 7-8, 2021.


Maka Akan Najin Black Elk and Alexia Kelley are available for interviews.

To learn more about Maka Black Elk’s work, visit the Red Cloud Indian School “Truth and Healing” website found here.


FADICA is the leading philanthropic peer network serving as a catalyst for a vital Catholic Church, Catholic ministries, and the common good. We promote the growth and effectiveness of Catholic philanthropy inspired by the joy of the Gospel and the Catholic social tradition. FADICA supports its members through education, exchange, fellowship and faith, research, joint funding opportunities, and interaction with Catholic leadership.  For more information on FADICA, visit: https://www.fadica.org/