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Rare white bison given Lakota name 'Wakan Gli': Return Sacred

A wild white bison calf was born this June in Yellowstone National Park. The pale-colored animal is not only a statistical rarity, it is significant in Lakota lore.

The sweet smell of burning sage and cedar wafted throughout the open air gathering near West Yellowstone at the Buffalo Field Campaign headquarters overlooking Hebgen Lake.

A few hundred people gathered in the grass for the naming ceremony of a weeks-old white buffalo calf, born nearby in Yellowstone National Park’s Lamar Valley.

“This used to the be the homeland of my great great great great grandfather. Chief Tendoy,” said Lee Juan Tyler, Shoshone-Bannock Chairman.

A flatbed trailer provided a stage for tribal representatives from South Dakota, Idaho, Washington , Wyoming and beyond to speak. Many spoke of ancestral ties to the Yellowstone area, including Darnell Sam of the Colville Confederated Tribes, he said “I come from North central Washington. We have a relationship to the land here. That our tribes would come here to harvest buffalo. We know and understand that our ancestors come here.”

Lakota spiritual leader, Chief Avrol Looking Horse, presented the name of the buffalo calf. A blue tarp hanging behind the stage was taken down, revealing the painted image of the white buffalo calf and it’s new name.

'Wakan Gli, Return Sacred.'

The calf was first spotted shortly after being born on June 4. A couple wildlife photographers happened to capture pictures of the calf, which began circulating online. The photographs helped confirm this one in one million event. Yellowstone National Park says the birth may reflect the presence of a natural genetic legacy that was preserved in this wild herd.

Looking Horse is the 19th generation Keeper of the Sacred Pipe, which was given to the Lakota people during a period of famine along with seven spiritual laws by a woman who transformed herself into a white buffalo. He said before disappearing, the the woman gave a warning, “She told the people next time I return to stand upon the earth as a white buffalo calf with black nose, black eyes, black hooves, Mother Earth is going to be sick and has a fever and that’s happening right now as we speak,” Looking Horse said.

Other tribes shared the significance of the calf as well, like Vincent White Crane, Sundance Priest from Northern Cheyenne in southeastern Montana, who said, “We got so much we can do as allies coming back, and we came to honor the Sioux prophecy of this little calf being born.”

This is the first known white buffalo calf born to a wild herd; few others have been born in captivity. The black eyes and hooves indicate that the calf is leucistic, rather than albino.

The fulfillment of the Lakota prophecy is meaningful to tribes across the West that are working to restore bison populations to their homelands, including Chairman Ryman LeBeau.
“Back at home at Cheyenne River, we do have one of the biggest herds of buffalo in Indian country. And the whole goal of having this buffalo herd is getting the meat back to the people. Our own people. .. Feeding the people healthy. Teaching the people how to cook how to eat," LeBeau said.

Looking Horse says he was both very happy and very saddened to hear the news of the new calf. For him, the calf is a clear warning from Mother Earth.

“So the prophecy of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, that we are at the crossroads. It’s up each and every one of you to make it happen. For the future of our children, we must come together and bring that good energy back," Looking Horse said.

Buffalo Field Campaign Board Vice President Dallas Gudgell helped organize the event over the past few weeks and echoed Looking Horse’s sentiments.

“It’s the fulfillment of a 1,000 plus years old prophecy. It’s not a reminder, it's real. This is it. We need to reconnect with one another, with Mother Earth first, and with our spiritual connection to all of our relations. Whether they have two legs or four legs or wings, or fins, or roots. That’s where we need to get back to. So that’s what this is about. This is the turning point to wake us up," Gudgell said.