One White Buffalo To Get Sacred Name; Death Of Another Still Stirs Anger

Jul 27, 2012
Originally published on July 27, 2012 5:02 pm

Hundreds of Native Americans are expected to gather Saturday at a former dairy farm in Goshen, Conn., to hold a sacred naming ceremony for what they hope is a rare white buffalo.

Mark Herz from NPR member station WSHU catches up with the story for All Things Considered in a report due to air later today. As he says, the calf's DNA still needs to be tested to confirm that he truly is a white buffalo — "or bison, as they are more properly known." But, "test results or no," many Native Americans are planning to be there tomorrow.

To be part of such an event "brings so much happiness to us because of the stories of the white buffalo calf that [were] passed down to us for generations," Marian White Mouse, of South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, tells Mark.

A white buffalo calf, says Jace DeCory, a Lakota who's also from South Dakota, "is a sign of rebirth. It's a good omen. We feel good when white bison are born, because it reaffirms our belief that things will be better for our nation and for our people."

As The New York Times reported earlier this month, farmer Peter Fay — who "began raising bison [in Goshen] as a hobby four years ago" — says "he carefully researched the bloodlines of the calf's mother and father, and he is confident the animal is all bison without any intermingling with cattle."

We wish we had better news to report concerning the white buffalo calf we posted about in May and the search for his killer. Lightning Medicine Cloud, which was living on a ranch near Greenville, Texas, was killed just shy of his first birthday.

KETR at Texas A&M University-Commerce reports that leaders of the Lakota Nation believe the crime "was committed by at least seven people of Native American tribes other than Lakota." And they're warning that if authorities don't arrest someone soon they may, in the words of ranch owner Little Soldier, "bring those people [suspects] and give them to them right there on the courthouse steps if we have to."

There's also sad news this week from Minnesota of the death of a calf born on July 4 who also was thought to have been a white buffalo.

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Tomorrow, hundreds of Native Americans are expected to gather by invitation on a former dairy farm in northwest Connecticut. They will purify themselves in sweat lodges and attend a naming ceremony. It's for an unusual animal born on the farm five weeks ago. Mark Herz of member station WSHU explains what's behind the pilgrimage.


MARK HERZ, BYLINE: That's a mama buffalo, or a bison, as they're more properly known, calling her five-week old baby. A sound from the Plains here in the pastures beside Mohawk Mountain in Goshen, Connecticut. The little fellow, who will be the center of attention this weekend stands out against his deep, dark, rich brown mother with her shaggy head and dangling goatee. He has none of that, and he's kind of a ruddy, off-white, as opposed to the light brown of other bison calves.

The calf belongs to Peter Fay.

PETER FAY: Well, I mean, I just watched him being born actually, him and another calf. Just saw he was white, so called my friends that are Native Americans. They came right over, and then they told me the whole story, really everything about the white calf.

JACE DECORY: A white buffalo calf is a sign of rebirth. It's a good omen. We feel good when white bison are born because it reaffirms our belief that things will be better for our nation and for our people.

HERZ: That's Jace Decory. She's a Lakota Indian and professor at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota. Because a white buffalo is so special, and can generate lots of interest, there have been fakes, ones produced by crossing bison with domestic cows. The white bison calf in Connecticut is in the process of getting his DNA tested to affirm he's the real deal. Test results or no, Marian White Mouse of South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation will be here this weekend. She heard about the birth in June, days after it happened.

MARIAN WHITE MOUSE: To hear that kind of news brings so much happiness to us because of the stories of the white buffalo calf that was passed down to us for generations.

HERZ: The stories talk about the sacred figure of the white buffalo calf woman. The Lakota Indians believe she brought them the sacred pipe used in their rituals. This weekend's ceremonies will be on Peter Fay's farm. His family gave up dairying there when he was young. The last 30 years he's made his living as the owner of an excavating and rock crushing business. Four years ago he got this idea to try raising bison.

FAY: They're a wild animal, and they're a challenge. So when you have to work with them or do things with them, you got to be very careful. They'll chase you, run you up the fences.

HERZ: Fay butchers some of his small wild herd for meat. He says it's low fat and tasty. He keeps the females long term for breeding, and now he's got one male who looks to have a long life with him. Fay says maybe a hundred people have been coming by daily to get a peek at the white calf. The naming ceremony for the calf this weekend is being led by a medicine man, Marion White Mouse's brother-in-law.

There will be plenty of Lakota prayers like the ones White Mouse says every morning.

MOUSE: (Speaking foreign language)

HERZ: Part of that prayer is for kids without families, for elders who are sick or uncared for, and for an end to suffering. This weekend, White Mouse will be in a pasture praying over a frisky five-week-old calf that she believes is a white bison and an omen of new hope for her tribe.

For NPR News, I'm Mark Herz in Connecticut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.