On April 30th a very rare, non-albino, white buffalo calf was found dead, slaughtered by unknown individuals. The calf’s mother was also killed, poisoned by whoever killed the calf. The calf, Lightning Medicine Cloud, born at the Lakota Ranch in Greenville Texas, was considered sacred, and a reward has been offered for information leading to the capture of the perpetrators.
“There’s now a $45,000 reward for information leading to those responsible for the death of a white buffalo, “considered sacred by its Lakota Sioux owner,” and its mother near Greenville, Texas, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Crime Time blog. The size of the reward has gone up ninefold in recent days and is likely headed higher, the blog adds. Donations have been coming in from around the nation.”
White buffalo are sacred in several Native American religions, and their killing can trigger outrage in Indian Country, even though breeding programs and knowledge of genetics makes them easier to create. Lightning Medicine Cloud was especially rare because the calf was naturally occurring, a one-in-ten-million event. At the Lakota Ranch’s website, an information page tries to convey the spiritual importance of a buffalo calf like Lightning Medicine Cloud.
The Native Americans see the birth of a white buffalo calf as the most significant of prophetic signs, equivalent to the weeping statues, bleeding icons, and crosses of light that are becoming prevalent within the Christian churches today. Where the Christian faithful who visit these signs see them as a renewal of God’s ongoing relationship with humanity, so do the Native Americans see the white buffalo calf as the sign to begin life’s sacred hoop.
“The arrival of the white buffalo is like the second coming of Christ,” says Floyd Hand Looks For Buffalo, an Oglala Medicine Man from Pine Ridge, South Dakota. “It will bring about purity of mind, body, and spirit and ;unify all nations—black, red, yellow, and white.” He sees the birth of a white calf as an omen because they happen in the most unexpected places and often among the poorest people in the nation. The birth of the sacred white buffalo provides those within the Native American community with a sense of hope and an indication that good times are to come.
What happens when an omen of unity and prosperity is slaughtered? Lakota Buffalo Ranch owner Arby Little Soldier, a descendant of Sitting Bull, says that his death would strengthen, not weaken, the calf’s purpose.
“He was the hope of all nations,” he said. “You have taken the inner spirituality. You tried to stop what we’re bringing back to ya’ll, but you just opened the doors to release the message to all people.”
We as a people crave stories that seem mythic, constantly searching for sign, omens, and portents in our daily lives. So it isn’t too unexpected that the killing of Lightning Medicine Cloud would spark a response in the mainstream media. The question now is what do we do now that attention is focused on this incident? I would argue that if you are horrified by this action, if you felt some kinship and understanding as to the importance of this animal, then you should funnel that outrage and sadness into paying more ongoing attention to Native American and indigenous issues here in America, and worldwide. Too often, the concerns and struggles in Indian Country are ignored, a specialty news item covered only on specialty news sites. If we are to help bring about the unity promised by Lightning Medicine Cloud, then the practice of solidarity might be a good start.
For example, we could examine the “gutting” of environmental review in Canada, a move opposed by Canadian aboriginals and environmentalists. We could ask why the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives opposes Native American protections in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization bill (even though 1 in 3 Native women will be raped during their lives and 2 in 5 women in Native communities will suffer domestic violence), or why the simple question of restoration of lands is regularly blown out of proportion every time it’s mentioned. Yet, for many of us, the connection isn’t there between our concern for the slaughter of a white buffalo calf, and the struggles of the peoples, the tribal nations, from where the context to understand that creature’s sacredness originates.
I would ask that anyone who wants to “do something,” who searched for some action to take, start with educating themselves on Native issues. Read sites like Indianz.com, News From Indian Country, and the Indian Country Today Media Network. Listen to shows like Native America Calling, or read blogs like Turtle Talk and First Peoples. If we Pagans would like to form alliances with practitioners of Native religions on issues of common concern, we should start by understanding what issues concern them. The death of Lightning Medicine Cloud, tragic as it is, presents an opportunity, a door we can open, towards deepening our understanding, and becoming the allies we imagine ourselves to be.