Sunday, September 20, 2020

Honoring the Birth of a White Buffalo Calf

About 30 people, including members from all seven tribes in Montana, gathered Aug. 29 in Lolo, Montana to celebrate and honor the birth of a white buffalo calf. The female calf was born about two months ago at the Bitterroot Valley Bison Ranch. At the ceremony, tribal members named her the Creator's White Buffalo Maiden. Experts say the birth of a white buffalo is "extremely rare," and for many tribal members, the extraordinary animal holds spiritual power and cultural significance. Lakota holy man John Fire Lame Deer once said, "A white buffalo is the most sacred living thing you could ever encounter."
Blair Gopher, member of the Blackfeet and Ojibwe tribes and pipe server at the ceremony, said a white buffalo is symbolic of a message from the Creator, or Great Spirit. "We are thankful to the Creator for sending the calf. It's seen as a warning and a blessing," he said.  
Many tribal members who attended the ceremony said the calf is symbolic of widespread unrest. "I think the reason the Creator sent this calf here is because of all the injustice that's been done," said Glenn Gopher, who conducted the ceremony. "Our country is in serious chaos. We have this virus and we have racial injustice. Our world is corrupt."
But Glenn added that the buffalo is also a blessing, as she symbolizes hope for a better future. "She shows that we need to love and respect one another. Refrain from hatred and racism. Love and respect are what's missing in this country; our lawmakers are out of hand. We prayed for peace and harmony for all of mankind," he said.
Carol Dubay, matriarch of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai and Pend d'Oreille tribes, said the calf looked "strong." "She was so happy. She was frolicking and dancing. The buffalo are calling, and we are honored," she said.
Jimmy StGoddard, member of the Blackfeet Nation, said he'd "never seen such enlightenment." "Everything shook when she was born," he said of the calf.
Frank LaPier, who serves on the Little Shell Tribe's Cultural Committee, said he attended the ceremony to heal. "I had a stroke a few weeks before, and if it weren't for the prayers and the support from the tribes, I wouldn't be here. It was such a unique moment," he said.
Richard Parenteau, vice-chair of the Little Shell Tribe's Cultural Committee, added that he couldn't help but notice the buffalo was born the same year the Little Shell Tribe gained federal recognition status. "It's really beyond words. It's just amazing," he said. "It was a spiritual awakening to see her."
Because the buffalo calf is female, many who attended the ceremony said her birth is a sign that more women should hold positions of power. "Our women have been abused, and we need to pray for better leadership in this country," said Blair Gopher. "Women will lead, and we must respect them."
Mary Gopher Parenteau, who led the women's pipe ceremony, said she brought her 12-year-old daughter to see the buffalo to instill in her a sense of pride. "(My daughter's) spiritual name is The White Buffalo Woman, so it was wonderful for her to be connected to this moment," she said.
How rare is a white buffalo? Historically, white buffalo appeared once in every five million births. Since people have started breeding bison, in the last 20 years or so, more white calves have been born. Experts now estimate a white buffalo is born once in every one million births.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

"Ze" Film Depicts Shamanism in Modern Mongolia

In 2014, Mongolian filmmaker Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir went to see a shaman named Uranbold. Although going to shamans was not a new experience for her, meeting Uranbold shocked her, because a young man of twenty-one in jeans and T-shirt appeared from underneath the shamanic robes and headdress after the ritual.
According to Purev-Ochir, "a shaman must balance double lives. He must listen to and guide people who come with problems ranging from infidelity to bankruptcy. He must play the role of psychiatrist, financial adviser, doctor and many more. He must comfort the dying and those they leave behind. And that is just his life outside of school, friendship, and romance."
With Uranbold in mind, Purev-Ochir began to form the backstory for "Ze," her feature-length directorial debut. The film tells the story of the budding relationship between a teenage shaman and a young woman, set in the impoverished yurt district of the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar. "Ze" is an exploration of the contradictions of modern-day Mongolia, a country where growing class divisions spurred on by what Purev-Ochir describes as "unfettered capitalism" are thrust against the traditions and beliefs of an older way of life. Caught between those contradictions is the emotionally charged relationship between 16-year-old Marla and the shaman, Ze, a bittersweet love made all the more complicated by the pressures of life on the rough-and-tumble fringes of Ulaanbaatar.
"Ze" is a portrait of the hard-scrabble realities of what it means to be a young, urban Mongolian today. Purev-Ochir wanted to tell a story about the bipolar experience of growing up in contemporary Mongolia, where Mongolians lead precarious existences due to ongoing economic instability and underdeveloped social infrastructure. Within this context, shamans play an important role in providing comfort and guidance. Yet they are people, too, living and breathing within the same restraints and freedoms as any other Mongolian.