A Big Welcome for a Baby Bison
American Indians celebrate the birth of a rare white bison
Elders from the Lakota Nation and other Indian tribes will name the bison at the end of July. (Douglas Healey for The New York Times / Redux)
Peter Fay knew the bison recently born on his farm in Goshen, Connecticut, was unusual. Although its mother was brown like most bison, this 30-pound bison baby was white. But Fay soon learned just how special the bison is.
To some American Indian tribes, a white bison is the most sacred thing in the world. It symbolizes good times and prosperity (wealth) to come. These tribes celebrate a white bison’s birth as a huge spiritual event.
“[White bison] are very rare, and . . . there is a reason for each one to be here,” Marian White Mouse told The New York Times.
White Mouse is a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. To the Lakota, a white bison is a symbol of the White Buffalo Calf Maiden, or Ptesan Wi. According to legend, the calf maiden came to the Lakota in a time of famine (a dangerous shortage of food) long ago. She taught them seven sacred rituals and brought prosperity to the tribe. The birth of Fay’s white bison gives the Lakota hope of more good times to come.
White Mouse, along with elders from the Lakota Nation in South Dakota and other American Indians will travel to Fay’s farm at the end of this month to take part in a naming ceremony for the baby bison. A Lakota medicine man will name the animal. The ceremony is expected to draw large crowds.
A SYMBOL OF AMERICA
Just two centuries ago, 30 million to 60 million bison roamed wild in the United States. In the late 19th century, settlers killed many of them for food and sport, and bison nearly became extinct. But thanks to conservation efforts, bison bounced back. Now nearly 500,000 of them can be found in the United States. Most of them live on preserves and ranches, where they are raised for meat. Wildlife conservationists and tribal groups are lobbying Congress to have the bison designated the National Mammal of the United States and a national symbol along with the bald eagle.
Experts say that at one time, only one in 10 million bison were white. The rate is a bit higher now, but some white bison are the offspring of cattle and bison. To be certain that his animal is fully bison, Fay has sent a sample of its DNA to Texas A&M University for testing.
Fay has also increased security at his ranch to protect the white bison. Last year, a white bison in Texas was killed in what some believe to be a hate crime against American Indians.
Fay says he does not plan to sell the white bison, adding that he is enjoying caring for it. “I think it’s amazing,” he told Indian Country Today Media Network. “I’m learning a lot.”