Rare white bison calf born to Siksika nation rancher a 'sign of hope'
Carlon Big Snake says white bison well represented in Indigenous history
When a rare white bison calf was born on his ranch a few weeks ago, Carlon Big Snake knew he had something special.
"As a First Nation Indigenous person, there is quite a significance for us because the buffalo we consider a very sacred animal," Big Snake told CBC. "It supplied the survival of my ancestors. It gave the roof over your heads, the food, the medicines and so forth. But as you all know through history the buffalo was almost wiped out."
For Big Snake and his wife Lisa, the white calf is not just a sign of good fortune for themselves, but for others.
"I felt blessed but I also felt blessed for First Nations because we have a lot of programs and services that represent the white buffalo," said Lisa Big Snake. "To actually have an actual white buffalo in our presence was going to be a blessing to everybody that came by."
And they have been coming.
- WATCH | See the baby bison and his dad, Tomahawk, in the video above
Big Snake said the ranch has been visited by Indigenous people from across Canada, who have made the trip to see the unusual calf.
"It's a beautiful feeling, everybody will leave here feeling good about seeing what they have seen," she said.
Her husband agrees, and welcomes the visitors.
"It's priceless, when people come. Some people come here they're in not-great spirits, and when they leave it's a different story," he said. "They just spend time there, they give their offerings or whatever, It is what it is, and as long as they walk out of here smiling, something has happened."
He said the bison has always been significant in the Indigenous culture. But a white one is exceptional.
"In the past when white buffalo came [or] was born, our people thought that there was hope. Good things are to come. It's a very significant, very holy, sacred animal, especially if they're the white bison," he said.
"And that's where I got all the interest from, especially the Indigenous people coming and visiting, and you can see the emotions there."
Big Snake says people will leave offerings for the bison, things like a favourite shirt or tobacco.
"It's for prayers, for respect for our creator, to say whatever they need, for help," he said of the offerings. "They're calling for the creator to give them strength or hope."
The family posted on social media when the calf was born and were overwhelmed with well wishes.
"Through Facebook, Lisa posted that, and the response and comments were that we're blessed, we're happy to have this bison on Siksika."
The parents are both white bison, but they have a bit more brown in their hide, which is dominant, so Big Snake said he did not expect to see a white calf.
"The chances were 50-50," he said. "We were very, very surprised."
He said today, the Indigenous connection to the bison is different but still powerful.
"These days it's basically saying to them, 'Thank you very much, we really appreciate what you provided our ancestors. Now how do we work with you today?' And that's hope," he said.
The family has named the white bison Kōna Ko'komíki'somma, or Snow Moon.
With files from Mike Symington and Colleen Underwood