White Buffalo Calf Woman, last seen by the Lakota people as she shape shifted into a snow-white buffalo calf before disappearing into the setting sun. She promised to return every generation, guiding Earth’s people toward peace and wisdom. She would return, the legend says, at a time of great shift and transformation, the harbinger of a new and enlightened era. Since then, the vast seas of bison that once washed across North America have dried up, chased into near extinction by the razor-sharp arrows and tireless rifles of nineteenth-century hunters. With their numbers reduced at one time to a mere 500 animals, and the chances of a white calf being born estimated at one in 610 million, the legend of White Buffalo Woman—and the possibility of a physical talisman on the ground as a symbol her sacred message—seemed ancient history….
Fast forward to 1997, where Jim and Dena Riley discovered, amongst the towering black bison they kept on their northern Arizona ranch, a small ivory-colored bundle in the grass: a snow-white buffalo calf. To their amazement, the baby wasn’t an albino—it had dark eyes. Not long after, another pure white buffalo was born to the Riley’s herd—and then another! Native American elders, population biologists and local ranchers all took notice—as did a growing number of spiritual seekers of all faiths who had become aware of the ancient prophecies. Since then, additional white buffalo calves have been born and the herd now consists of 14 white bison who live in a sanctuary near Bend, Oregon. After Jim Riley passed, his wife entrusted the care of the herd to Cynthia Hart-Button, a lifelong cowgirl, ordained minister, spiritual coach and trusted friend. Cynthia founded the non-profit Sacred Earth Peace Alliance, in part, to support the precious animals and their role in our collective future. Though partly Native American herself, Cindy sees the white buffalo as belonging to all people.
Today, there are perhaps 400,000 American Bison standing on western soil. Most are ranch-raised for their meat, but another ten to twenty thousand live on tribal lands and in National Parks.
Despite the relatively stable population recovery, at last count, less than 50 white bison existed anywhere. (In a regrettable event shortly before this magazine went to press, a rare one-year old white bison living in Texas was killed and skinned in its pasture). Hart-Button is well-educated in genetics and had her herd DNA-tested, confirming they are 100% pure indigenous American Bison—not a hybrid of cattle and buffalo. And she is well aware of the demand for these animals—dead or alive. For that reason, the sanctuary offers tours by appointment only and judiciously attends to the welfare and security of the herd.
To offset expenses, The Sacred Earth Peace Alliance collects the shed hair of their white bison and a limited number of authentic Pendleton blankets are produced from them each year. Featuring powerful First Nations symbols and the energetic blessings of the buffalo who “donated” the fur, the Hiawatha Big Medicine Blankets are prized as both unique western décor and as potent spiritual totems. A calendar featuring images of the white bison herd is also available, as are opportunities for charitable white buffalo “adoptions.” Funding for the animals care (the bulls consume a large bale of hay every day!) is an ongoing need, and a major goal of the Sacred Earth Peace Alliance is to purchase land for a permanent bison sanctuary.
For more information, to donate, or to purchase a Hiawatha Big Medicine Blanket made from the shed hair of the white buffalo herd, visit www.sacredwhitebuffalo.org or call 888.401.5066.