Tribes honor birth of rare white buffalo and reveal its name: Wakan Gli : NPR

This photo shows a white buffalo calf born June 4, 2024, in the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park, an event of spiritual significance to many Native American tribes.

Jordan Creech via AP/Jordan Creech

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Jordan Creech via AP/Jordan Creech

West Yellowstone, Mont. – At a gathering near a picturesque lake outside Yellowstone National Park, hundreds of people cheered as a Native American leader spoke the name revealed on a painted hide for a rare white buffalo born in the park earlier this month: Wakan Gli, which means “return sacred” in Lakota.

The moment was the highlight of a Native American religious ceremony commemorating the birth of the calf, which included dancing, drumming, song and retellings of how a mysterious woman brought a message of reassurance during difficult times.

Earlier this month, a white buffalo calf was born in Yellowstone National Park’s vast and lush Lamar Valley, where huge, lumbering bison are seen in hundreds of grazing scenes reminiscent of the Old American West.

For many tribes that revere American bison — they call them “buffalo” — the calf’s appearance is a fulfillment of sacred prophecy and a message to take better care of the earth.

“It’s up to each and every one of you to build this for our children’s future. We need to come together and bring that good energy back,” Chief Arvol Looking Horse said at ceremonies a few miles west of Yellowstone. Southern Montana.

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Looking Horse is the spiritual leader of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota Oyate of South Dakota and the 19th keeper of the sacred white buffalo calf female pipe and bundle. He describes the appearance of the white buffalo calf as a blessing and a warning about the natural environment.

About 500 people, including representatives of the Colville tribe in Washington, the Lakota and Sioux in the Dakotas, the Northern Arapaho in Wyoming, and the Shoshone-Bannock in Idaho, attended the ceremonies at the Buffalo Field campaign headquarters between Hepken Lake and the South. Madison Range. The conservation group works with the tribes to preserve and honor the wild buffalo.

Arvol Looking Horse, spiritual leader of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota Oyate peoples of South Dakota, completed a naming ceremony for the white buffalo calf Wednesday at the Buffalo Field Campaign headquarters in West Yellowstone.

Arvol Looking Horse, spiritual leader of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota Oyate peoples of South Dakota, completed a naming ceremony for the white buffalo calf Wednesday at the Buffalo Field Campaign headquarters in West Yellowstone.

Sam Wilson/AP

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At most, only a few could see the calf immediately after its birth on June 4. A few others got photos to prove its existence. Since then the calf has been missing.

Every week that passes without a sighting increases the suspicion that the calf has fallen victim to poachers, river currents, disease or some other danger to the young buffalo. Regardless, it’s a good sign with deep roots in Lakota mythology and spiritual belief.

About 2,000 years ago – when nothing was right, food was running out and buffalo were disappearing – White Buffalo Calf Woman appeared and gave a tribal member a bowl pipe and a bundle, telling her that the pipe could be used to bring buffalo to the area. Food.

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When she left she turned into a white buffalo calf. A white buffalo calf with a black nose, black eyes and black hooves, she promised to return one day, when times were hard.

“The birth of this white buffalo calf with a black nose, black eyes, and black hooves is a very important moment in our history,” Looking Horse said.

White calves are uncommon, but not unheard of on buffalo farms, as the result of interbreeding between buffalo and cattle. Another level of rarity of white bison in the wild is that none have been known in Yellowstone — the continent’s largest animals — in recent memory, if at all.

The calf arrived in 2023 after a harsh winter that drove thousands of Yellowstone buffalo to lower elevations. More than 1,500 were killed, sent to slaughter, or transferred to tribes.

Jordan Creech, a guide in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, is one of the few people to capture images of a white buffalo calf.

While Creech was guiding to photograph, he saw a cow buffalo giving birth near the Lamar River. The buffalo disappeared over a ridge and the group continued to where the grizzly bears were spotted, Creech said.

They later returned and saw the cow with its calf, Creech said. The birth of the calf was obvious and it was a wonderful time, he said.

“I mentioned to my guests that it was strangely white, but I didn’t announce that it was a white bison, because why would I think I saw the first white bison birth in recorded history. Yellowstone?” he said.

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Yellowstone Park officials have no previous record of a white bison being born at the park. Park officials could not confirm the birth this month.

Erin Bratton, who also captured images of the white calf, searched for it days after its birth but was unable to find it.

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

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