A white bison calf was born last week at Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, bringing the number of the extremely rare animals in the herd to five.
Herd caretaker Tony Tacan says the white buffalo mother has had five calves in total – one brown and four white – even though all the fathers were brown. Just how unusual that really is depends on the source of information, but all agree it’s a rare and deeply spiritual event for this community and beyond.
“The first calf she produced was brown and the ones after that were all white,” says Tacan. “Nobody ever expects this to happen. There’s a reason this is happening, and all we can do is share it with our First Nations brothers and sisters so they have a place to come and pray for people who would otherwise feel hopeless.”
The white bison matriarch was a gift to the Sioux Valley community from the Assiniboine Park Zoo in 2010. The community’s website recounts the legend of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, which reads in part:
“The woman explained that her name was Ptesan-Wi, and that she would help the Dakota people rise to full strength again… She taught the people the Seven Sacred Rites and gifted them the sacred pipe. She left the people but promised to one day return as a white buffalo.”
Over the years, Tacan has seen evidence of the healing power of the animals that roam this rolling pasture on the western edge of the reserve.
“We all know cancer is on the rise, diabetes is epidemic, asthma too, and now the meth crisis… I know of people whose illnesses have disappeared and can’t be explained. We give thanks to the Creator through the buffalo for helping our relatives.”
Even non-First Nations people make pilgrimages to the big fenced-in pasture just to catch a glimpse of the bison lounging in the grass or feeding at their round bale near the watering hole.
Believers bring offerings of tobacco wrapped in a flag and tied to the fence; the urge to give something while praying is strong.
Tacan tells the stories of his community’s relationship to the bison in a soft voice that holds a spiritual reverence. It’s a sensation he wants everyone to experience.
“I want to see people come here and pray, that’s what it’s here for. People run to churches, to their sacred places, but this is our sacred place. The Dakota, Lakota, Nakota and Anishinabe Nation, this is our sanctuary provided for such prayers.
“Non-natives have Rome, we have the white buffalo.”