Friday, September 28, 2012

Where The Buffalo Roam.... The Lakota, the Buffalo Field Campaign, and the Return of the White Buffalo


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“Only when the last tree has died,
 the last river been poisoned,
 and the last fish been caught
 will we realize we cannot eat money. ” -Cree Indian proverb 

"They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept one; they promised not to take our land, and they did." - Mahpiua Luta "Red Cloud" Oglala Lakota







You can feel the poisoned earth, bottled up and ready to explode. There is no questioning it. You can feel the anger of every poisoned tree, flower, wolf, and bison. You can feel the strangled roots of Mother Gaia rising up through the cracks in the concrete. We have raped her, stripped her of her resources, and broken and bound her with our barriers and walls and fences. We have sullied and tarnished her with toxic wastes and carbon emissions. We dump the excrement of our civilization into her rivers. We have tarnished her wildlife with our city streets and our pavement. Slowly, but surely, the woodlands turn to concrete. In the name of Progress, we destroy our own back yards. We have sold our children's children out forever. There may be no "seven generations from now," anymore. We are on the eve of destruction, and it has been brought on by our own hands.

Before the meat that you eat is slaughtered, the animals that end up as your dinner are squeezed into a compact and overcrowded area of demolished forest, herded together and packed in wall to wall. They are fed on the excrement and remains of other animals, and they are made sickly and feeble. They are shot with man-made growth hormones and chemicals, toxins that no human should consume. They are thoroughly poisoned, a decision that is overseen and supervised by our Commander In Chief, who in his infinite wisdom has seen it fit to appoint the former vice president of Monsanto to the position of senior advisor to the commissioner of the FDA. And now, media mogul and founder of CNN Ted Turner has struck a deal with the Montana department of wildlife: In return for providing a ranch on which to "quarantine" Yellowstone buffalo, Ted will be paid in bison to stock his "Ted's Montana Grill" restaurant chain. Cha ching.

We are told that we are free. 

We are not free. We are those cattle. We are being fattened for the slaughter.

There is a legend of the Lakota Sioux people. It goes something like this: Two warriors were out hunting buffalo, when they stumbled upon a white buffalo calf. As they approached the calf, it transformed itself into a beautiful young woman. One of the warriors was impure, and the young Indian woman told him to step forward. He did, and he was engulfed in a black cloud and was left with no flesh on his bones.

The other warrior, he knelt and prayed. He prayed to the great spirit. He showed humility and strength. The woman told the warrior that she would bring his people a sacred bundle in four days. The young man went back to his people, and told them of what had happened. And so, the Lakota Sioux gathered together into a circle, and they waited together for the return of the beautiful woman.

On the fourth day, it is said that a cloud came down from the sky, and a white buffalo calf stepped off of it. When the calf had reached the earth, it is said to have transformed itself into the beautiful young woman the Lakota Sioux people had been waiting for. She carried a sacred bundle, containing the instructions she wished to teach the people. The woman then spent four days among the Lakota Sioux, teaching them the truths that she had preserved within her bundle.

She taught them seven sacred ceremonies. The purification ceremony of the sweat lodge. A child naming ceremony. A healing ceremony. A ceremony for adoption or the making of relatives. A marriage ceremony. A ceremony of the vision quest. A ceremony for the sun dance. It was said that as long as the Lakota people performed these ceremonies, they would remain the caretakers of this land.

The young woman left the same way that she had arrived, promising to the people that some day she would return to retrieve the sacred bundle. This bundle is known as the White Buffalo Calf Pipe, and it is now kept in a safe and sacred place in South Dakota. It has been passed down from generation to generation of Lakota Sioux people.

Before the white buffalo woman left, she made a prophecy. She said that one day, the birth of a white buffalo calf would occur, and that this would herald the dawn of a new era for the Lakota. This is an exceedingly rare event, projected to be somewhere between a one and 10 million chance occurrence. Since 2004, over a dozen white buffalo have now been born in North America.

Which brings us to president day, 2012. On Friday, my old friend and collaborator DJ Yewsten invited me to an event at the Portland Hawthorne Hostel, planned and hosted by The Buffalo Field Campaign. The Buffalo Field Campaign has existed in one form or another since the winter of 1996-1997, a season in which the Montana Department of Livestock slaughtered nearly 1,100 Yellowstone buffalo. Founded by environmental activist Mike Mease and Lakota Native Rosalie Little Thunder, the organization has served as a watch dog group that has helped to prevent the senseless slaughter of the buffalo for the last 15 years. Every day, volunteers from all around the world come together to protect the bison in their own environment. Their patrols stand together with the buffalo in their native habitat, reporting every crime committed against the buffalo.

The event was called the Tatanka Freedom Festival, and it was designed to promote awareness and to raise funds for the campaign. Several musicians were scheduled to play, including a duo calling themselves "The Urban Shaman" that make music exclusively with triggered drums and a heavily processed didgeridoo. Upon arrival, I headed through a gate in the back of the hostel through an arch underneath a giant inflatable bison. A concession table, along with several cameras and microphones were already set up, and I mingled a bit while I waited for Yewsten. Picking up a bit of food, I talked briefly with the woman who organized the event personally. She prefers to be mentioned only in passing as "Sunny Daze". She pointed me towards Mike Mease, with whom I sat and talked to about the roots and the mission of the movement.

Longhaired, accessible and down to earth, Mease was enthusiastic and polite.

"I'm the campaign coordinator and co-founder," he explained to me. "I'm basically helping to run the front line efforts that we have been doing for the last 15 years. My background is I call myself a 'vidiot'- I used to do environmental and human rights documentaries and guerilla media, sneaking into areas... The buffalo issue was brought to my attention and I went down there. For years, it was just myself and some other co-workers of mine documenting it. I made a documentary about getting into the slaughterhouse and showed the world, and I sent it to Rosalie [Little Thunder] who at the time worked for the inner-tribal bison co-operative. She saw the video and was so disturbed she made 60 copies and sent them all out to these tribes, and we started communicating. She organized a prayer day with Arvol Looking Horse.




Arvol Looking Horse, keeper of the sacred buffalo pipe, discusses the prophecy of the White Buffalo

"After that happened," he continued, "we decided we needed to have a front line presence to continuously monitor and document this atrocity. We committed to moving down there if we came up with the start up money, and we did. That was the foundation of the Buffalo Field Campaign."

When discussing his past endeavors that lead up to his involvement with BFC, Mike mentioned he had primarily worked as a video activist.

"Mainly, I'd go to different places around the world and I'd sneak in and do guerrilla media. I worked for Greenpeace and hiked 30 miles into a Nevada test site, into an actual ground zero. We brought in a microwave transmitter and beamed out the only video footage ever seen of a ground zero other than government released footage. That turned out to be an illegal Star Wars test, which we shut down. I went undercover as a black bear hunter on Vancouver Island for a group called 'Bear Watch' and got some pretty disturbing footage documenting the atrocities that were going on there.

"We want people to know that this sort of thing is going on, period. This event is also to help raise funds and to recruit volunteers that come out and stand with us and the buffalo in the winter.... We are traveling with a phenomenal musician, Good Shield. Through his musical conviction, and his relationship as a family member, (he's from the Lakota Nation and his auntie is Rosalie who started this with me), we are able to bring this to peoples' hearts and make them understand that these buffalo have a lot more meaning than just another animal- they represent a way of life that was taken away from this continent."

It may be that there is hope for the return of the White Buffalo, both literally and metaphorically. Certainly, we have seen the birth of more than a few white buffalo calves in the last decade. More importantly, the prophecy of the White Buffalo must be seen as a reminder from the past and a light of hope in deeply troubled times. The message is clear. If we, as human beings, begin to remember our role as caretakers of the planet and work together to reverse the damage that we have done, we may be able to enter into a new and better world together. Only after our perception of our place in the world shifts from "ownership of the planet" to "guardians and protectors of nature" can this occur. We must all choose to actualize this vision together to preserve the future of life on our planet.




For more information on the Buffalo Field Campaign, please visit buffalofieldcampaign.org or contact Michael Mease: mease@wildrockies.org

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