Gift of white bison deemed historic event

First Nations people in Manitoba are hailing the gift of a white bison calf from the City of Winnipeg as a historic sign of hope and renewal.

Rare animal is considered a sacred sign of renewal, hope for First Nations

First Nations people in Manitoba are hailing the gift of a white bison calf from the City of Winnipeg as a historic sign of hope and renewal.

During a ceremony Monday morning at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo, Mayor Sam Katz presented two calves — one white and one brown — to the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, which is located near Brandon in southwestern Manitoba.

"For me, [this] signifies a new beginning," said Chief Donna Elk. "I think that's the easiest way to put it — to have this day to look back on and to remember, to say to our children that the white buffalo has come home."

Elders of the Dakota Nation consider the white bison a strong spiritual and cultural symbol.

Sioux mythology has a female character of supernatural origin referred to as the White Buffalo Calf Woman.

According to legend, two men were sent out by their starving and demoralized villages to look for buffalo herds near the Sacred Hills, also know as the Black Hills, in western South Dakota.

They had a vision of a maiden dressed in white buckskin, who told them to prepare the villages for her arrival. She appeared soon after and brought prayers, teachings, a sacred pipe and other offerings.

She promised to return someday to renew the people's faith and spirit, and as she departed, she turned into a buffalo calf. She rolled over repeatedly, changing from black to brown to yellow to white.

Ever since, the white buffalo has been viewed as a return of the maiden and her promise of renewal.

Gesture of friendship

The calves given to the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation were born last year at the Assiniboine Park Zoo, along with a second white one. They were all sired by the zoo's own white bison, Blizzard.

Zoo officials decided to offer two calves to a First Nations community as a gesture of friendship and in recognition of the great significance of the animal to First Nations people, said Katz.

Following discussions among a number of First Nations communities in southern Manitoba, Sioux Valley First Nation was selected as the new home for the female white buffalo calf and her brown companion, he said in making the presentation on behalf of the city and the zoo.

Dozens of First Nations people from across Saskatchewan, Manitoba and South Dakota attended the ceremony. One of them was Arvol Looking Horse from Green Grass, S.D., the 19th generation carrier of the sacred bundle and pipe believed to have been given to the Dakota people many centuries ago by the White Buffalo Calf Woman.

The calves will be welcomed into the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation community at a formal ceremony Monday night.