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Last week at Yellowstone National Park, a sacred and rare event took place as a white buffalo calf was born. The occurrence holds deep significance for various Native American tribes, who revere the white buffalo as a powerful symbol of spirituality and hope. 

Wildlife photographer Erin Braaten of Dancing Aspens Photo was there to capture the moment, although she just missed witnessing the birth, Braaten captured the photos of a lifetime. 

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In an interview with Cowboy State Daily, Braaten recounted her initial confusion and later realization of the extraordinary scene unfolding before her. 

“We were just driving along, and there were some bison crossing the road,” Braaten told Cowboy State Daily. “I was looking back, and I saw what I thought maybe was a coyote.” 

Upon closer inspection, she discovered it was a white bison calf. Remarkably, it had clearly just been born.

“The afterbirth, the placenta was still there, and the calf was just standing up,” Braaten said. 

White bison are exceedingly rare and are often considered a sacred symbol among various Native American tribes. The white coloration may result from a genetic mutation known as leucism, which causes patches of white coloration on the skin or fur. 

Unlike albinism, which is characterized by a complete lack of melanin, leucistic animals have reduced pigmentation, resulting in white or patchily colored fur while retaining normal eye color. 

According to the National Bison Association, there are approximately 500,000 bison in North America, and only about one in every ten million bison born is white.

Among the Lakota people, the white bison holds a special place in their spirituality and traditions. The legend of the White Buffalo Calf Woman is central to their beliefs. 

According to the legend, a white buffalo calf appeared to the Lakota many generations ago and transformed into a beautiful woman who taught them sacred ceremonies and imparted important spiritual knowledge. The White Buffalo Calf Woman promised to return again, signaling a time of peace and harmony. 

Other tribes, such as the Cherokee, Sioux, and Mandan, also revere the white bison. For these tribes, the white bison symbolizes purity, spirituality, and the promise of prosperity. It is believed to be a powerful omen and a message from the Creator. 

Yellowstone National Park plays a crucial role in the conservation of American bison. Once nearly driven to extinction, bison populations have rebounded due to concerted conservation efforts. The park's bison herd is one of the few remaining that has not been interbred with cattle, preserving their genetic purity. 

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About The Author
Kaili Berg
Author: Kaili BergEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Staff Reporter
Kaili Berg (Aleut) is a member of the Alutiiq/Sugpiaq Nation, and a shareholder of Koniag, Inc. She is a staff reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Berg, who is based in Wisconsin, previously reported for the Ho-Chunk Nation newspaper, Hocak Worak. She went to school originally for nursing, but changed her major after finding her passion in communications at Western Technical College in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.