“We’re outraged,” James Swan remarks regarding the white buffalo hunt offered by a Texas hunting ranch. “We don’t have a problem with people having [white buffalo]. We just have a problem with people making big bucks killing them.”
Swan is a Cheyenne River Sioux tribal member and President and Founder of United Urban Warrior Society. “In our Lakota ways our creation story starts with the white buffalo. Over the centuries the white buffalo, to us, is a very sacred part of our culture and part of our spirituality. Our people didn’t have a written language. Everything was passed down through stories over the centuries and white buffalo was a center part of everything we do.”
The story on the white buffalo hunt was posted to Indian Country Today Media Network on Monday afternoon and kicked off a firestorm of Facebook activity. Late Tuesday, Aaron Bulkley, owner of Texas Hunt Lodge, which advertised the $13,500 buffalo hunt on its website, spoke with ICTMN about the matter. “We’ve had a ton of feedback from people since the white buffalo story came out, and I understand the white buffalo is sacred to Indians,” he said. “It’s been on the website for three years and all of a sudden people are excited about it. I do understand their point. I’m not saying I disagree with it or agree with it but I am going to take it off the website.”
Asked directly if he would be offering white buffalo hunts at all, he responded, “Not for white buffalo.”
Bulkley also explained that white buffalo were not rare like in earlier days. “There are multiple breeding ranches all over the U.S. that breed white buffalo.” He also said the numbers are well over 50 throughout the country including many in Texas. “If you breed a white buffalo to a white buffalo you will have a white buffalo.”
Swan had questioned if the animals were beefalo, a buffalo-cattle cross, or true buffalo but felt either way it was wrong. “The argument would be it looks like one (buffalo) and everybody thinks it is. The argument that it’s not technically a buffalo to me just doesn’t work.”
Bulkley cleared up that question, saying, “They’re buffalo, not beefalo.”
“These hunter guys, they obviously know the significance of the sacred white buffalo because of the way they advertise it. I don’t know what could hurt the native community harder than something like this,” Swan said.
Cynthia Hart-Button was even more emotional about hunting white buffalo. She is President of Sacred World Peace Alliance with Lakota ancestry. She and her husband also have 14 white buffalo on their Oregon property, three born this past year. “I am repulsed!” was her response. “I am beyond … just completely beyond! I am so adrenalized right now because of these buffalo.” She and her husband work with various tribes and provide hair that has been shed by their buffalo to Pendleton Mills for blankets, but not before they do prayer circles and prayers on the hair.
The number of white buffalo has definitely increased in recent years. Dan Sharps is a biologist at the National Bison Range in Montana, where the famous white buffalo “Big Medicine” was born in 1933 and lived till his death in 1959. Sharps said he recalled that the incidence of white buffalo in naturally occurring herds in earlier years was “something like one in ten million.”
Sharps said that the entire population of buffalo is about half a million. That combines the number between private herds and those found in such places as federal and state herds. That’s a far cry from the wild populations that supplied Native Americans with food, tools, clothing and housing for many generations but it is also a significant increase from the low point around 1900.
The increase in the percentage of white buffalo can be attributed to better knowledge about genetics and breeding. Keith Aune works with Indian tribes throughout Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas through his job with the Wildlife Conservation Society. “In nature it’s a fairly rare event (white buffalo) and that’s where Native people’s interest comes from as a very special thing. What’s happening today with better breeding and a better understanding of genetics, people are finding these lines they can breed and create more abundant white buffalo and that’s going to be a huge challenge.”
But at this time, the challenge is more immediate. “Our goal is to bring this awareness, to shut this down,” Swan remarks. “The eagle is also sacred to our people but it’s also a national emblem so it’s protected. We need to get the same status for the white buffalo to become a protected species. Not buffalo in general but just the white buffalo. If they keep exploiting this, all it’s going to do is create more, longer animosities between the indigenous peoples and the non-indigenous peoples.”