Joseph Eagle Elk (1931-91) was an effective and highly respected traditional Lakota healer. He practiced for nearly thirty years, treating serious physical and mental illnesses among the people of the Rosebud Reservation and elsewhere. In 1990 he began collaborating on his memoir with Gerald Mohatt, a close friend and cross-cultural psychologist. Eagle Elk's story of his life, practice, and beliefs provides a uniquely introspective, demystified, and informative look at the career of a traditional Native American healer. We learn how a persistent vision and recurring visits by thunder spirits led Eagle Elk long ago to become a healer. On a more general level, we gain valuable insights into how Lakota healers practice today. Eagle Elk's story and teachings also demonstrate the importance of community support and consensus in the development of traditional healers. Gerald Mohatt's perspective as a cross-cultural psychologist enables him to highlight the psychological dimensions and efficacy of Eagle Elk's healings and place them within a cross-cultural context. Eagle Elk's life and career are presented in a way that brings together formative episodes from his life, selected teachings that emerged from those experiences, and case studies in healing. This arrangement allows readers to grasp the close relationship between the personal and cultural dimensions of traditional healing and to understand how and why this practice continues to affect and help others.
Gerald Mohatt is a professor of psychology and education at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and the founding president of Sinte Gleska University, the Rosebud Sioux tribal college. He is the coauthor of Transforming the Culture of Schools: Yup'ik Eskimo Examples.