White buffalo calf 'Chance' to heed prophecy

Author:
Updated:
Original:

Just when things had settled down at the famed Heider farm after the 1994 birth of a white buffalo calf named ìMiracle,î this phenomenon has taken a startling new turn. Yet another white buffalo calf was born Aug. 24, this time during a severe thunderstorm at the Wisconsin farm. This is where Miracle was born almost exactly 12 years earlier, the first to be seen since 1933. Miracle died at the age of 10, and Valerie Heider named the new arrival ìMiracleís Second Chance.î

Lakota spiritual leaders have acknowledged the calves as the real thing, a message from the White Buffalo Calf Woman. The spirit brought the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people a sacred bundle and taught them seven sacred ceremonies that would sustain them for centuries. Heider, a truck driver who kept a small buffalo herd on the side, was honored for his stewardship of Miracle by Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th generation keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe. By all accounts, the Heiders have conducted themselves admirably, opening their farm to thousands of visitors but refusing to commercialize their sacred guest, preserving their offerings with respect, declining lucrative purchase offers from the likes of rock star Ted Nugent, and throughout it all maintaining a sincere reverence for the calfís spiritual significance.

Many lessons will be learned from the arrival of Miracleís Second Chance; indigenous spiritual leaders and thinkers are busy interpreting them. All of them, like Looking Horse, agree on the need for unity among all peoples of the world in order to restore harmony on sacred Mother Earth. But one would venture to comment on one particular paradox, since it concerns the relations of Indian country to the dominant society. As some have noted, most of the recent white buffalo calves (there have been a few since Miracle) have been delivered to non-Indian owners. The overwhelming message seems to be that their lessons are meant not just for Lakota or American Indians, but for all humankind.

This message is reinforced by the pattern of development of a true white buffalo calf. Lakota tradition records that their coats stay white only in their first months. The color then changes three times, to black, then to red, then to yellow. This is exactly what happened with Miracle. These four colors are also the Lakota ethnography for the four races of mankind. Looking Horse and others have read this sign as a direction to take their teachings beyond the confines of nation or race. Theyíve traveled widely and frequently performed the Pipe ceremony at the United Nations. His recent honoring at the United Nations shows that these efforts are appreciated by the world beyond, even if they have sometimes been criticized at home.

Miracle herself was a source of inspiration beyond Indian country. The Heiders asked visitors to sign a guestbook, eventually gathering thousands of names. Fully a third, they estimated, were non-Indian. They also set up a small but emotionally impressive museum of the offerings visitors left by the fence of Miracleís pastures. These expressions of sincere respect raise the constant dilemma of Native spirituality. How much of its ceremonies and rituals can properly be shared with outsiders?

Take, for instance, the purification ceremony popularly known as the Sweat Lodge. It is very likely one of the oldest and most perfect of human spiritual practices. The ceremony combines individual purification, group support and prayer, deep psychological symbolism of rebirth and an ultimate physical feeling of well-being. It canít be considered the property of any single people. But in the wrong hands it can produce tragic results.

A recent segment on the ìFine Livingî cable channel recently showed a group, apparently all non-Indian, conducting a Sweat Lodge in a bit of spiritual tourism. In June 2002, a similar non-Indian group in northern California set up its version of a lodge, made nearly airtight with plastic sheeting, as preparation for a ìvision quest.î Within a short while, two of the participants inside were dead. This horror, the result of complete ignorance of sweat procedures, deeply shocked traditional spiritual leaders.

Bernard Red Cherries, Northern Cheyenne Arrow priest and Elk Society headman; Looking Horse; and a number of other leaders held a series of meetings through the end of 2002. In March 2003, nearly 20 spiritual leaders and bundle keepers of the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe nations endorsed a proclamation on the protection of ceremonies issued by Looking Horse. The proclamation reaffirmed the traditional protocols for participating in the Seven Sacred Rites of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota and prohibited attendance by non-Natives.

This proclamation, like others before it, responded to rampant exploitation of deep-rooted spiritual beliefs by non-Indian New Agers, dilettantes and outright hucksters. It properly attempted to return control to those holders of traditional ceremonial knowledge to conduct them. But it left two questions unanswered. The New Age groups who market a trivialized imitation of Indian spiritual ways are still out there. How can they be exposed and discredited? But at the same time, the world desperately needs to hear the prophesies and insights that the original people have to offer. How can they be communicated without exposing sacred ceremonies to exploitation?

The task is difficult and always controversial, but not impossible. Other cultures throughout history have faced similar challenges with momentous consequences. Perhaps the arrival of the sacred calf to non-Indians is a call to seek the common ground that exists between us, and to acknowledge that we are at a crossroads of great change that must be somehow navigated as one people.

Just when things had settled down at the famed Heider farm after the 1994 birth of a white buffalo calf named ìMiracle,î this phenomenon has taken a startling new turn. Yet another white buffalo calf was born Aug. 24, this time during a severe thunderstorm at the Wisconsin farm. This is where Miracle was born almost exactly 12 years earlier, the first to be seen since 1933. Miracle died at the age of 10, and Valerie Heider named the new arrival ìMiracleís Second Chance.îLakota spiritual leaders have acknowledged the calves as the real thing, a message from the White Buffalo Calf Woman. The spirit brought the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people a sacred bundle and taught them seven sacred ceremonies that would sustain them for centuries. Heider, a truck driver who kept a small buffalo herd on the side, was honored for his stewardship of Miracle by Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th generation keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe. By all accounts, the Heiders have conducted themselves admirably, opening their farm to thousands of visitors but refusing to commercialize their sacred guest, preserving their offerings with respect, declining lucrative purchase offers from the likes of rock star Ted Nugent, and throughout it all maintaining a sincere reverence for the calfís spiritual significance.Many lessons will be learned from the arrival of Miracleís Second Chance; indigenous spiritual leaders and thinkers are busy interpreting them. All of them, like Looking Horse, agree on the need for unity among all peoples of the world in order to restore harmony on sacred Mother Earth. But one would venture to comment on one particular paradox, since it concerns the relations of Indian country to the dominant society. As some have noted, most of the recent white buffalo calves (there have been a few since Miracle) have been delivered to non-Indian owners. The overwhelming message seems to be that their lessons are meant not just for Lakota or American Indians, but for all humankind.This message is reinforced by the pattern of development of a true white buffalo calf. Lakota tradition records that their coats stay white only in their first months. The color then changes three times, to black, then to red, then to yellow. This is exactly what happened with Miracle. These four colors are also the Lakota ethnography for the four races of mankind. Looking Horse and others have read this sign as a direction to take their teachings beyond the confines of nation or race. Theyíve traveled widely and frequently performed the Pipe ceremony at the United Nations. His recent honoring at the United Nations shows that these efforts are appreciated by the world beyond, even if they have sometimes been criticized at home.Miracle herself was a source of inspiration beyond Indian country. The Heiders asked visitors to sign a guestbook, eventually gathering thousands of names. Fully a third, they estimated, were non-Indian. They also set up a small but emotionally impressive museum of the offerings visitors left by the fence of Miracleís pastures. These expressions of sincere respect raise the constant dilemma of Native spirituality. How much of its ceremonies and rituals can properly be shared with outsiders?Take, for instance, the purification ceremony popularly known as the Sweat Lodge. It is very likely one of the oldest and most perfect of human spiritual practices. The ceremony combines individual purification, group support and prayer, deep psychological symbolism of rebirth and an ultimate physical feeling of well-being. It canít be considered the property of any single people. But in the wrong hands it can produce tragic results.A recent segment on the ìFine Livingî cable channel recently showed a group, apparently all non-Indian, conducting a Sweat Lodge in a bit of spiritual tourism. In June 2002, a similar non-Indian group in northern California set up its version of a lodge, made nearly airtight with plastic sheeting, as preparation for a ìvision quest.î Within a short while, two of the participants inside were dead. This horror, the result of complete ignorance of sweat procedures, deeply shocked traditional spiritual leaders.Bernard Red Cherries, Northern Cheyenne Arrow priest and Elk Society headman; Looking Horse; and a number of other leaders held a series of meetings through the end of 2002. In March 2003, nearly 20 spiritual leaders and bundle keepers of the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe nations endorsed a proclamation on the protection of ceremonies issued by Looking Horse. The proclamation reaffirmed the traditional protocols for participating in the Seven Sacred Rites of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota and prohibited attendance by non-Natives.This proclamation, like others before it, responded to rampant exploitation of deep-rooted spiritual beliefs by non-Indian New Agers, dilettantes and outright hucksters. It properly attempted to return control to those holders of traditional ceremonial knowledge to conduct them. But it left two questions unanswered. The New Age groups who market a trivialized imitation of Indian spiritual ways are still out there. How can they be exposed and discredited? But at the same time, the world desperately needs to hear the prophesies and insights that the original people have to offer. How can they be communicated without exposing sacred ceremonies to exploitation?The task is difficult and always controversial, but not impossible. Other cultures throughout history have faced similar challenges with momentous consequences. Perhaps the arrival of the sacred calf to non-Indians is a call to seek the common ground that exists between us, and to acknowledge that we are at a crossroads of great change that must be somehow navigated as one people.