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To Native Americans, the Bison or American Buffalo was a symbol of sacred life and abundance. This importance and symbolism was created from legend:
One summer a long time ago, the seven sacred council fires of the Lakota Sioux came together and camped. The sun was strong and the people were starving for there was no game. Two young men went out to hunt in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Along the way, a beautiful young woman dressed in white appeared to the warriors and said, "Return to your people and tell them I am coming." This holy woman presented the Lakota people with the sacred pipe which showed how all things were connected. She taught the Lakota people the mysteries of the earth. She taught them to pray and follow the proper path while on earth. As the woman left the tribe, she rolled upon the earth four times, changing color each time, and finally turning into a white buffalo calf. Then she disappeared. Almost at the same time as her leaving, great herds of buffalo could be seen surrounding the camps. It is said that after that day, the Lakota honored their pipe, and buffalo were plentiful.
This story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman has immense importance to the Lakota and many other tribes. As John Lame Deer, a spiritual leader says, "A white buffalo is the most sacred living thing you could ever encounter." The changing colors—like some white buffalo do as they age—have significance, too, which must be interpreted by a holy man.
The American Buffalo or Bison is a symbol of abundance and manifestation. The lesson learned by the Lakota is that one does not have to struggle to survive. This is especially true if the right action is joined by the right prayer. By learning to appropriately unite the mundane with the divine, all that will be needed will be provided.
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.
The telling of a story from one culture to another is complex; without living in the culture, we miss much of the story's significance. However, it can still have meaning for us if we take the time to learn about the philosophy of the culture from which it came, perhaps meditating or reflecting on its place in our own lives.