Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
The White Buffalo Calf
... One day, two young men were out hunting. They had been friends since childhood, and worked well together, even though one was hotheaded and impulsive, while the other was more thoughtful and deliberate. Despite a long, hot day of careful tracking and effort, they had nothing to show for their efforts, and their spirits were low as they faced the prospect of returning home empty-handed.
The impulsive man retied his moccasins and turned for home, but his friend took one last look across the horizon, and uttered a shout of surprise. Soon both men were watching what he had noticed, a tall woman striding straight from the Sun towards them. "Who is that?" the young men wondered.
"I'm going to run and meet her!" declared the impulsive man.
"But wait, this is a holy woman..." protested his friend, but the other didn't listen, and ran to the woman, just he said he would. He dashed right up and threw his arms around her. Then a cloud came down over them, and when it vanished, a pile of white bones lay at the woman’s feet, entwined with snakes.
The Holy Woman walked over to the remaining young man. "Run to your People, and tell them I am coming." She was carrying a bundle in one arm.
When she arrived at the People's camp, she entered a tipi they had specially readied for her, and were waiting inside, careful to leave ready for her the place of honour. Having taken her place, she set her bundle down, and began to sing. Slowly she unwrapped the bundle, and then began to take things from it, singing the appropriate song for each. From the bundle she took the sacred pipe, and taught the People how to use it in prayer. She showed them the herbs used in prayers with the pipe. Patiently, she explained about the buffalo, and how they were relatives to the People and would help them feed and clothe themselves.
For four days the Holy Woman taught, and when the four days were finished, she gave the bundle to the People, and said, "I will return again." Then she walked out of the tipi, straight towards the Sun. As she walked, she rolled over four times, turning into a black buffalo, a red buffalo, a yellow buffalo, and finally a female white buffalo calf.
The story above is a version of the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota story of White Buffalo Calf Woman, and how she brought the sacred pipe and the foundations of culture to their people. She first came at a time when they were suffering, and their people were torn apart by violence and sickness. Their belief that White Buffalo Calf Woman will return in the form of a female white buffalo calf is shared by First Nations across the Plains. Her return is associated with a time of great change, when Indigenous peoples will begin to truly rebuild their cultures and an age of peace and harmony for all people will begin.
On August 20, 1994, a female white buffalo calf was born on the Heider farm in Wisconsin. Buffalo calves are ordinarily born red, and may even turn white as they grow, but a buffalo calf that is born white and is not an albino is exceedingly rare. The Heider family didn’t know a great deal about Indigenous culture in general before the white buffalo calf came into their lives, but they were so deeply impressed by the birth of the calf themselves that they named the calf Miracle and found themselves in what amounted to a crash course in Plains First Nation culture.
It wasn't long before members of the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota Nations, who are the special protectors of the white buffalo calf were making pilgrimages to the farm, and then members of many other Plains First Nations followed suit. (It would have been inappropriate for them to go to see Miracle before the Nakota, Lakota, and Dakota had done so.) To their credit, the Heider family refused to act in any way that would commercialize the situation, and generously opened their farm to the visitors.
White Buffalo Calf Woman's colour changes are by no means merely symbolic, as the Heiders discovered by observing Miracle. During her life, Miracle's colour changed four times, from white to black, to red, to yellow, and finally to brown.