White Buffalo Calf Story Essay, Research Paper
The Lakota Sioux Indians of the Great Plains possess rich religious traditions which are tied closely to the Earth. Though the relegation of these people to reservations amid the environmental disasters of American development has resulted in the near destruction of an ancient culture, some Lakota Sioux continue to fight for the preservation of their sacred lands animals, civil rights, and way of life.
The seven original bands of the Great Sioux Nation were joined in an alliance called the ?Seven Council Fires.? This confederation included three separate groups, each with its own dialect; the Santee spoke Dakota, the Yankton spoke Nakota, and the Teton spoke Lakota. By 1800, the Great Sioux Nation covered most of the Northern plains, including the Dakotas, Northern Nebraska, Eastern Wyoming, and Southeastern Montana. The United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803. The westward expansion that followed eventually lead to the depletion of the buffalo, an animal sacred and central to the Lakota way of life. In 1866 Chief Red Cloud lead a successful fight to close off the Bozeman Trail, a pass leading to the gold mines of Montana. This trail crossed over traditional Lakota hunting grounds, and heavy traffic resulted in desecration of many sacred lands. Hope came in 1868 in the form of the Fort Laramie Treaty, which established the Great Sioux Reservation, encompassing most of present-day South Dakota west of the Missouri River, including the Black Hills. The U.S. government pledged to keep whites out of this territory, but this agreement was soon reneged upon. In 1874 Lt. Col. George A. Custer discovered gold in the Black Hills, sending a rush of prospectors to the area. The Battle of Little Big Horn erupted on June 25, 1876 after Custer?s troops attacked a large Indian encampment. Custer lost his entire command of more than 200 men in the battle.
A congressional act in 1889 split the Great Sioux reservation into six smaller reservations. Some of the tribes began performing the Ghost Dance, a religious ceremony meant to extinguish the whites and return the buffalo. In 1890 Chief Sitting Bull was murdered on the Standing Rock Reservation. Following this event, Big Foot and his Mnikowoju band fled to Pine Ridge to seek protection under Red Cloud. More than 250 members of Big Foot?s band were massacred by the 7th Cavalry on December 29 at Wounded Knee. This event is often described as the last major conflict between the U.S. Army and the Great Sioux Nation.
It?s undeniable that the conflicts between Native Americans and whites have always been exacerbated by a fundamental misunderstanding of Native American spirituality by outsiders, who often fail to comprehend the involvement of religion in every aspect of Native American life. The Lakota Sioux believe in Wakan Tanka, ?the great incomprehsibility,? the benevolent force that created the universe and comprises everything. This concept is understood not so much as a specific entity, but as a spirit that signifies the unity of the universe, and celebrates the mysteries of life. Wakan Tanka is sometimes embodied in human beings the Wicasa Wakan, or holy people. These holy beings are seen as the spiritual fathers and mothers of all men. One such Wicasa Wakan is the White Buffalo Calf Woman. Here is her story:
The story goes that she appeared to two warriors who were out hunting buffalo in the sacred Black Hills. They saw a white buffalo calf coming toward them, and as it came closer it turned into a beautiful young Indian girl. One of the warriors was consumed by impure thoughts, and the girl told him to step forward. When he did, a black cloud circled his body, and when it disappeared he had no flesh or blood on his bones. The other warrior kneeled down to pray, and the girl told him to go to his people and warn them that in four days she would return with a sacred bundle. He warned the people, and on the fourth day she came. She spent four days living among the people and teaching them the meaning of the sacred bundle. It contained the first peace pipe and seven sacred ceremonies. The first was the sweat lodge ceremony for purification. The second was the child naming ceremony. The third was for healing, the fourth was the ceremony for the making of relatives, and the fifth was a marriage ceremony. The sixth was the vision quest, an imperative spiritual rite of passage for every Indian man. The seventh ceremony was the Sun Dance, the people?s ceremony for the whole nation.
She instructed the people that as long as they performed these ceremonies they would remain caretakers of the land, and that as long as they respected the sacred bundle their people would never die. As she left, she promised that she would return one day for the bundle, which the Lakota still possess and venerate in its sacred location on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. The White Buffalo Calf Woman also made some prophecies before she departed. She said that the birth of a white buffalo calf would be a sign that her return was near, and that she would soon come to purify the world and return spiritual balance and harmony.
On August 20, 1994 a white buffalo calf was born on a small farm in Janesville, Wisconsin. The white owner of the farm, Dave Heider, named her Miracle. Since her birth more than 20,000 people have made pilgrimages from near and far to visit, take pictures, pray, and leave offerings of feathers, necklaces, and pieces of colored cloth as well as personal notes. Her owners were forced to copyright both her name and her image to prevent exploitation of the calf. Her birth held tremendous significance for the Lakota for a number of reasons; the circumstances fulfilled several of the White Buffalo Calf Woman?s prophecies. She?s female, and the bull that sired her died, just as in the prophecy. Though some people were disappointed to see that her head turned brown and her body turned silvery-tan, versions of the prophecy state that the white buffalo calf would change colors four times, signifying the colors of the four peoples she would unite: black, red yellow, and white. Miracle has also been confirmed by the Lakota as the calf of the prophecy because of winter counts, which are used to date the telling of the White Buffalo Calf Woman story. Her birth has been a boon to the community because of the tremendous amount of positive attention it draws from the mainstream media. Mainstream interest in this especially sacred event creates many opportunities for people to be educated about the beliefs of the Lakota, and creates a positive bridge between people. These hopeful developments can also be seen as fulfillments of the prophecy if they are indeed helping to bring about peace and harmony, just as the White Buffalo Calf Woman predicted.