Birth of rare white bison calf draws visitors to western Manitoba First Nation
New calf believed to be 1 of just 3 white bison in Manitoba
From afar, you see what looks like an average herd of about two dozen bison in a pasture just outside of Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, Man.
But get closer to the herd, and you'll see one of the most recent additions has far more meaning.
The community welcomed a rare white male bison calf on May 7. The calf's mother, also a white bison (commonly called buffalo), was born at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo in 2009 and given to the community's herd because of the cultural significance of the animal.
"The significance of the white buffalo is that … all of our teachings and our culture and our ceremonies were given through the white buffalo calf woman," said Sioux Valley Chief Vince Tacan. "We have a lot of people in the community that they follow the beliefs.
"That [the white buffalo] signals the start of our culture and our beliefs and our ceremonies," he added. "It's really important to us."
Tacan said he knew they were dealing with something special when he saw the calf, but he didn't go out of his way to tell everyone. Tacan is one of the caretakers of the community's herd.
Since the birth, people have come from as far as the United States to see the baby bison and leave tobacco offerings wrapped in colourful ribbons and pouches that now line the fence along its enclosure.
"It's up to you [community members] to come to the buffalo and put out your offerings," Tacan said.
Tacan said he wasn't sure what the odds are of a white bison being born, but it's the first one the community's herd has seen since the mother bison was welcomed into the herd more than six years ago.
The community has had requests to bring the buffalo out and put it on display at fairs and other events but is opting to keep it in the pasture, he said.
"I don't think we'd want to display her [the mother] in that sort of way," said Tacan. "It's a sacred animal.… If you want to see it you'd have to come out here.
"We're trying to work in a respectful way."
Tacan said the bison right now are used as a teaching opportunity for the community while they build the herd's numbers, but they might look at some sort of commercial operation down the road.
"The buffalo were important in the past, and we hope they'll be important in the future coming up," he said.
Ten bison calves have been born so far this year in Sioux Valley's herd.
Officials with the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg believe Blizzard, a white bison at the zoo, as well as Sioux Valley's white bison and its calf are the only three white bison currently in Manitoba.