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White Buffalo Calf Woman by Richard Underbaggage

Many moons ago, two Lakota hunters from the Itazipechola (Without Bows) band were sent by their chief to look for buffalo. It had been a harsh bitter-cold winter and many of the people were starving. All day, the two hunters searched for the herds, but to no avail. Just as they were about to give up hope, they saw a lone figure approaching from the west, but the figure was floating instead of walking, so they knew it was holy. As it came nearer, they saw it was a beautiful woman clothed in a white buckskin dress with bright quillwork designs on it. Her long, glossy black hair hung about her shoulders, except for a single strand on her left side that was bound with buffalo fur. In her hands, she carried a sage leaf fan and on her back was strapped a bundle. She spoke to the two young hunters, telling them she had been sent by the Buffalo Nation to help their people. "I am sent by the Buffalo Nation to visit you people. It is right that you are trying hard to fulfill the wishes of your people and find buffalo even though it is a difficult task."

As she spoke on of the young hunters looked upon her with lust in his heart. The other gazed on her with awe and respect, as she was a sacred being. The first hunter tried to seize her, but a great white cloud enveloped them. When it lifted, the man had been turned into a bundle of bones. Seeing this, the second hunter was afraid, but the woman reassured him and told him to set off immediately for his village and give his chief her message. To tell him to prepare for her coming by building a medicine lodge with twenty-four poles. The young man hurried to his village and told his chief the story. Quickly, the people built the sacred lodge in the center of the camp circle as she had instructed. They were to prepare an altar of red earth in the center of the lodge and spread sage at the place of honor in the rear of the lodge. Directly behind the altar, they were to build a samll rack and in front of the rack, place a buffalo skull. They were to prepare a small space of mellowed earth. The Lakota then waited for her arrival.

The next day she came, her buckskin dress glowing in the bright sunlight. Lightning flashed around her and even the dogs were afraid to bark as she entered. Instead of her fan, she now carried a large pipe made of wood with a bowl of red stone. There were twelve spotted eagle feathers hangin from it, symbolizing the eagle as the Great Spirit's messenger. When she was seated, she showed them how to use the pipe, filling it with red willow bark and lighting it with a hot buffalo chip from the fire. She walked around the lodge four times after the manner of Anpetu-Wi, the great sun.

This represented the circle without end, the sacred hoop, and the road of life. She told them the bowl represented the power of the Great Spirit, the stem was their life, and the smoke rising from it was their prayers being carried by the wind to Wakantanka. During the time she stayed with them, she taught them how to pray and use the right gestures. They were to offer the pipe to the four directions, to the sky, and to Mother Earth. She spoke of many things. How they were all related to the two-legged, the four-legged, down to the smallest insect and stone in the Creator's sacred universe. She told them they were to live in peace and harmony with each other and with the Earth.

Then she spoke to the women of their task of childbearing and homemaking. To the children of how they would grow up strong under the wise teaching of their parents, and to the men of how to use the pipe wisely. Finally, she told the chief that Wakantanka was well pleased because he had done as instructed. It was his duty to see that the pipe was always respected and revered. By doing so, his people would live and prosper.

From her bundle, she then took a sacred stone on which was carved seven circles. She told them it represented the seven sacred ceremonies they were to perform. The first, the soul-keeping ceremony in memory of the death of a loved one; then the sundance; the hanblechia (vision quest); the inipi (sweat lodge); the female puberty rite; the hunka (making of relatives); and finally, the tossing of the sacred ball.

She told the Lakota that they were the purest among the tribes, and for that reason Tunkashila had bestowed upon them the holdy chanunpa (pipe). They had been chosen to take care of it for all the Indian people on this turtle continent.

When she had finished instructing the people, she left, telling them to take a good look at her. She left the lodge, still walking clockwise. As she reached the edge of the camp, walking away in the direction from which she had come, she turned first into a black buffalo, then a brown one, a red one, and finally, rolling over into a white buffalo calf before disappearing over the horizon.

After she was gone, the buffalo herds returned in large numbers providing the Lakota people with all of life's essentials; food, clothing, shelter, and utensils. To this day, the people speak with reverence of the way of the pipe and observe five of the sacred ceremonies that she brought them long ago.

By Richard Underbaggage