A South Dakota saint?

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PINE RIDGE VILLAGE, S.D. (KOTA TV) - There are only a dozen or so American, Catholic saints - none of them from South Dakota, but that could change.

Nicholas Black Elk may become the first from the Mount Rushmore State and the second of Native American ancestry.

Ann-Marie Amiotte is a Lakota Catholic following the canonization process.

"It's really exciting that this is even a process," Amiotte said. "We are particularly proud that we as Lakota people here on Pine Ridge can travel this journey to see where it might end. We are all terribly excited.

It's a process a long time coming that draws feelings of relief from Lakota Catholics like Angie Stover.

"I felt like it's really good to be able to have this come to fruition in the church," Stover said. "To have the Catholic Church recognize that indigenous people can truly be saintly people."

Father George Winzenburg is a Catholic priest working on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He believes the potential for Black Elk becoming a saint is a gift, not just for the world, but the Lakota people especially.

"He was thoroughly Lakota," said Father Winzenburg. "He practiced ceremonies. He was a holy man, Medicine Man, but at the same time he came to understand that one could be Christian at the same time and in this case, a Catholic Christian."

Merging traditional Lakota beliefs and Catholic teaching is something many on the reservation find difficult, but something Stover believes Black Elk embodied.

"There are a lot of people who are Catholic but they deny their Catholicism because they think it's a shameful thing to be Catholic and Lakota," Stover said. "It's like a spiritual identity crisis. For me, it's like a way to continue to heal the people of that split in their spiritual personality."

Bill White is the postulate for the cause of Nicholas Black Elk, which means he is one of the people on the ground gathering evidence of Black Elk's ascension into heaven.

"He would guide them to Catholic faith," White said. "He is accredited bringing over 400 Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people to the faith."

"It's really remarkable isn't it that a Lakota man who's also very holy in his Lakota Culture and his ways could have such a connection with the catholic church," Amiotte.

It could be a while before the church finishes the study to determine sainthood, but for these Lakota Catholics, the matter is already settled.

"There's one thing that Father Escalante told me and I really thought was a good statement," White said. "He said that Nicholas Black Elk was living in heaven far before his death."