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Reported Birth of Rare White Buffalo Calf in Yellowstone Park Fulfills Lakota Prophecy

The reported birth of a rare white buffalo in Yellowstone National Park fulfills a Lakota prophecy predicting better times to come, according to members of the American Indian tribe who warned it is also a signal that more must be done to protect the Earth and its animals. to protect.

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

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

Erin Braaten of Kalispell took several photos of the calf shortly after it was born June 4 in the Lamar Valley in the northeast corner of the park.

Her family was visiting the park when she saw “something very white” among a herd of bison across the Lamar River.

Traffic finally stopped as the bison crossed the road, so Braaten stuck her camera out the window for a closer look with her telephoto lens.

“I look and it’s a white bison calf. And I was just completely, totally floored,” she said.

After the bison cleared the roadway, the Braatens turned their vehicle around and found a parking spot. They watched the calf and its mother for 30 to 45 minutes.

“And then she kind of led it through the willows there,” Braaten said. Although Braaten returned each time the next two days, she never saw the white calf again.

To the Lakota, the birth of a white buffalo calf with a black nose, eyes and hooves resembles the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, according to Looking Horse.

Lakota legend says that about 2,000 years ago – when nothing was good, food was running out and the bison were disappearing – the White Buffalo Calf Woman appeared, presented a bowl pipe and bundle to a tribe member, taught them to pray and said that the pipe can are used to bring buffalo to the area for food. When she left, she turned into a white buffalo calf.

“And one day when times are hard again,” Looking Horse said as he told the legend, “I will return and stand on the earth as a white buffalo calf, black nose, black eyes, black hooves.”

A similar white buffalo calf was born in Wisconsin in 1994 and was named Miracle, he said.

Troy Heinert, executive director of the South Dakota-based InterTribal Buffalo Council, said the calf in Braaten’s photos resembles a real white buffalo because it has a black nose, black hooves and dark eyes.

“From the photos I’ve seen, that calf appears to have these characteristics,” said Heinert, who is Lakota. An albino buffalo is said to have pink eyes.

A naming ceremony has been held for the Yellowstone calf, Looking Horse said, although he declined to reveal the name. A ceremony honoring the calf’s birth will take place June 26 at the Buffalo Field Campaign headquarters in West Yellowstone.

Other tribes also revere white buffalo.

“Many tribes have their own story about why the white buffalo is so important,” Heinert said. “All the stories go back to the fact that they were very sacred.”

Heinert and several members of the Buffalo Field Campaign say they have never heard of a white buffalo being born in Yellowstone, where wild herds live. Park officials had not yet seen the buffalo and could not confirm its birth in the park, and they have no record of a white buffalo having been born in the park before.

Jim Matheson, executive director of the National Bison Association, could not quantify how rare the calf is.

“As far as I know, no one has ever tracked the birth of white buffalo throughout history. So I’m not sure how we can determine how often it occurs.”

In addition to herds of animals on public lands or under the supervision of conservation groups, about 80 tribes in the U.S. have more than 20,000 bison, a number that has grown in recent years.

In Yellowstone and the surrounding area, the killing or removal of large numbers of bison occurs almost every winter, under an agreement between federal and Montana agencies that has limited the size of the park’s herds to about 5,000 animals. Yellowstone officials last week proposed a slightly larger population of up to 6,000 bison, and a final decision is expected next month.

But Montana ranchers have long resisted expanding Yellowstone herds or turning the animals over to tribes. Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte has said he would not support any management plan with a population goal of more than 3,000 Yellowstone bison.

Heinert sees the birth of the calf as a reminder “that we must live well and treat others with respect.”

“I hope the calf is safe and lives its best life in Yellowstone National Park, exactly where it was meant to be,” Heinert said.

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