Wildlife

Native American ceremony will celebrate birth of white buffalo calf in Yellowstone park

HELENA, Mont. — Ceremonies and celebrations are planned Wednesday near the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park to mark the recent birth of a white buffalo calf in the park, a spiritually significant event for many Native American tribes.

A white buffalo calf with a dark nose and eyes was born on June 4 in the the park’s Lamar Valley, according to witnesses, fulfilling a prophecy for the Lakota people that portends better times but also signals that more must be done to protect the earth and its animals.

“The birth of this calf is both a blessing and warning. We must do more,” said Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the spiritual leader of the Lakota, Dakota and the Nakota Oyate in South Dakota, and the 19th keeper of the sacred White Buffalo Calf Woman Pipe and Bundle.

Looking Horse has performed a naming ceremony for the calf and will announce its name during Wednesday’s gathering in West Yellowstone at the headquarters of Buffalo Field Campaign, an organization that works to protect the park’s wild bison herds.

For the Lakota, the birth of a white buffalo calf with a dark nose, eyes and hooves is akin to the second coming of Jesus Christ, Looking Horse has said.

“It’s a very sacred time,” he said.

Lakota legend says about 2,000 years ago — when nothing was good, food was running out and bison were disappearing — White Buffalo Calf Woman appeared, presented a bowl pipe and a bundle to a tribal member and said the pipe could be used to bring buffalo to the area for food. As she left, she turned into a white buffalo calf.

“And some day when the times are hard again,” Looking Horse said in relating the legend, “I shall return and stand upon the earth as a white buffalo calf, black nose, black eyes, black hooves.”

The birth of the sacred calf comes as after a severe winter in 2023 drove thousands of Yellowstone buffalo, also known as American bison, to lower elevations. More than 1,500 were killed, sent to slaughter or transferred to tribes seeking to reclaim stewardship over an animal their ancestors lived alongside for millennia.

Members of several Native American tribes are expected to explain the spiritual and cultural significance of the birth of the white buffalo under their traditions, during Wednesday’s gathering.

Jordan Creech, who guides in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, was one of a few people who captured images of the white buffalo calf on June 4.

Creech was guiding a photography tour when he spotted a cow buffalo as she was about to give birth in the Lamar Valley, but then she disappeared over a hill. The group continued on to a place where grizzly bears had been spotted, Creech said.

They returned to the spot along the Lamar River where the buffalo were grazing and the cow came up the hill right as they stopped their vehicle, Creech said. It was clear the calf had just been born, he said, calling it amazing timing.

“And I noted to my guests that it was oddly white, but I didn’t announce that it was a white bison, because, you know, why would I just assume that I just witnessed the very first white bison birth in recorded history in Yellowstone?” he said.

Yellowstone park officials have no record of a white bison being born in the park previously and park officials were unable to confirm this month’s birth.

There have been no reports of the calf being seen again. Erin Braaten, who also captured images of the white calf, looked for it in the days after its birth but couldn’t find it.

“The thing is, we all know that it was born and it’s like a miracle to us,” Looking Horse said.

BY  AMY BETH HANSON

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