Recently, St. Joseph’s Indian School eighth-grade students and staff set out through the morning fog for the Crow Creek Department of Wildlife and Natural Resources.
Why? A Buffalo Harvest.
In a welcoming gesture, the intimidating fog lifted as the group arrived at the destination. Twenty-four students and five adults piled into pickups for a jostling ride across the pasture to the buffalo herd.
Students quickly observed the presence of a white buffalo in one herd, which reemphasized the event’s sacredness for them. White buffalo are wakȟáŋ — holy — to the Lakota. White Buffalo Calf Woman is said to have brought the people the seven sacred rites of their spiritual tradition.
The St. Joseph’s eighth-graders were more than observers. Once the buffalo had been harvested, Jaxon offered the buffalo water and grass. Makaia gave it cedar tea. Aurora placed sage in its mouth, and Memphis sprinkled the body with tobacco. Sacred smudge filled the air as students sang a song of thanks to the buffalo for giving its life so that the people may live, offered prayer and sang a prayer song.
Memphis said, “I was happy to sprinkle the buffalo with tobacco and sing for it because it gave its life for us.”
Albert “Buc” Fallis, Sr., Wildlife Director, worked with the school to make the event possible.
“Before all else, the day was an experience of thiyóšpaye (extended family),” explained Mission Integration Director Joe Tyrell.
Fallis and field dresser Josh DeHaai of DeHaai Wild Game Processing have connections to St. Joseph’s Indian School and graciously assisted in making plans for the day. Carla Thompson, whose grandchildren attended St. Joseph’s Indian School, came to campus later to help prepare the stomach and intestines for a menudo-like stew that will be prepared for use after inipi ceremonies on campus.
What did students think?
Amelia observed, “It was good to see what our ancestors did to provide for their families at a time when they didn’t have modern ways of cutting and cleaning meat.”
Classmate Gabrielle added, “It felt like I was connected to my culture through singing for the tȟatȟáŋka (buffalo). When the field dresser left parts of the animal on the prairie as an offering to our earth relatives, it helped me to understand a little bit about the old ways.”
Lakota Studies Teacher LaRayne Woster expressed her feelings about the remarkable moment with students.
“Spiritually, our kids experienced culture first-hand under the guidance of staff and elders,” said Woster. She added, “We will have the buffalo hide and skull to represent our day. I want the students to learn from real-life experience and share with all generations out of respect and humility for who we are as a people.”
She added that they understand how the contemporary harvest compares to how it was performed more than a century ago. In the Lakota tradition, every part of the buffalo is used out of respect for the animal’s self-sacrifice. A portion of the meat will be made into jerky for use on the Seventh Grade Cultural Trip. Most of it will be ground for meals in the homes and Dining Hall. Some will be prepared as stew meat to serve to families at spring parent-teacher conferences.
Philámayaye — thank you — to supporters who make experiences and opportunities like this possible!