Now I will tell you of a sacred brotherhood, a brotherhood so deep that even the coldest day cannot keep them indoors. It is the brotherhood of the Tatanka or Buffalo hunters I am talking about.

Pick-up and Buffalo

During the coldest time of the year the hides are prime. It is a time of back when we had buffalo at our ranch the hunters would come. It was through hunting buffalo I learned of a special connection to this beast of the prairie that had brought tears to my eyes and swollen lump in my throat. To see them breathe their first breath, being born on our 800 acre ranch to seeing them breathe their last breath, as I stood above them. It had a really tough impact upon my life.

Through this experience I gained a big respect for the sacred Tatanka, the Holy One who took care of our people for many centuries. In the buffalo’s eyes I saw another life. A life of the Great Plains people of yesterday; the Lakota, the same people that our ONE Spirit food program is so dedicated to helping. It was a beautiful time that movies can’t portray. Through the buffalo ranching life style we had developed our own way of marketing our animals. It was through hunting. This was our way of making ends meet and getting bills paid. In other words we had to do it. Our operation is a smaller operation but very productive. Through these hunts I saw the spirit of a day when all was good for the people. There was no modern day junk food or barbed wire fences across the prairie.

It was yesterday, the day of the most flourishing time of the people. It was Mother Earth, all the animals, and the Lakota and friends together in a scene of yesterday. It was a vision of a time that Grand Father talked about with the other old-timers. I wished that I could stay in the dream a little longer but it slowly faded away. Reality came fast and I was standing above a heart shot buffalo. The arrow that was lodged in its heart moved to the last beats. My hunter had really hit a good shot. I stood there in silent prayer and hoped for a quick painless death.

Sunset

Slowly the arrow moved until it stopped. My son started to say something and I quickly went shhhhh! I never like any speaking or noise as they pass, the door way is open, I said shhhh! No one can speak unless it’s a message into the spirit world to those who have passed on before. We can send a message with the sacred one if we have humbleness and ask that the buffalo know we are thankful for his sacrifice. He will carry the message to our loved ones up there if we ask. His Spirit will look back and not just see us but see into our spirit, see into our heart. It is why we have prepared for this hunt by going to sweat “Inipi” before this hunt. During a buffalo hunt, that moment when the sacred one breathes his last breath, it is a special time, a moment I hope before he goes into the spirit world, when he looks back at me. I hope he will see his brother.

Writing these words is very hard as I imagine it could be for you who read this, but it is all true. There was a buffalo hunt where an accident happened and after this day I didn’t want to ever hunt a buffalo again in my life. Another buffalo was accidentally killed. I wondered if that buffalo’s spirit would be mad at me. It was a long time, one whole year for me, to get over the situation, which I won’t go into details about. I would only want a reader to know I have respect for the buffalo beyond any Lakota hunter in the modern day.

I think that if someone were to have more respect you’d have to go back about 300 years. The men who were with me on most of these hunts were my boys at ages 10-12 years old. They grew up with these buffalo ways. We were and still are a buffalo Tiospaye having been buffalo ranching for over 15 years. We have been asked to share buffalo hunting ways with other tribal members to show this connection. The ways were mostly taught not by an elder but by instinct. We always ask our elders but on some of the hunts they couldn’t be there. It is a vigorous task. They say the women did the butchering back in the day. Well, maybe back in the day they did, but not in this day. The two boys did it and they have made names for themselves as professional skinners and capers. They are skilled at skinning and receive good tips and pay for their work.

Bamm, Truck and Buffalo

Buffalo hunts were a way for us to sell our stock so we didn’t have to take them to a sale barn. The last time I took my Buffalo to a sale it was to Crawford, Nebraska. This is a town by Ft Robinson, Nebraska not very far from where Crazy Horse was killed. I took them there the night before the sale as all buffalo ranchers did. We unloaded them and the stockyard hired man put them in a pen for the night. As I drove away all I could think of was they were free at my house and now they have to stay there all night. I didn’t feel good about the situation at all. It was a quiet drive all the way home. In the morning we got up early and drove to the sale. We watched them roughly push our buffalo through the alleys and into the sale ring. The auctioneer sang his song and bidders bid on our sacred bother, sons and daughters. It was really sad. I knew I could yell out “No Sale” at anytime and I could bring them home, but we really needed the money to pay bills. It was looking like they really weren’t going to bring that much anyway. I thought even if they sold the highest I’m still leaving here sad. Then I looked at my sons. I saw two young Lakota boys watching as they moved our buffalo around in the ring. The two boys looked as if they were kids and someone just took a toy away from them. After seeing the looks on their faces I knew I wasn’t selling those buffalo calves there at that sale.

I watched some more then. I thought about money, which is why we were there. It is a world today that is about money, if you let it be. We could be poor and go home without, it's how we lived anyway. Buffalo ranching for me wasn’t about money, it was about the brotherhood of buffalo. A Sacred Brotherhood was born, and we were feeling it right then in our throats. It was really sad to see our buffalo in that sale ring. It was about the spirituality of having buffalo in our backyard. It was about being Buffalo people again. Yesterday that’s what we were, and then when reservation life came, it was a time of Indian cattle ranchers. “For every Indian cattle rancher should have been an Indian Buffalo Rancher”. We are a people of the buffalo, I was told. Those words stayed with me, and we stayed with buffalo ranching for about 15 years.

I decided it was now or never and yelled “No Sale!” From the corner of my eye I could see Elliot looking at me and I could feel his smile. We brought them all back home. It was silent in that place as I signaled to the sale guys I wasn’t going to go through with it. Many years ago near this sale ring a great warrior named Crazy Horse was killed, and started a journey, and that was the end of a free roaming people of the plains. After Crazy Horse’s death the people came to the reservation never to roam freely again. I couldn’t let there be an ending at this place again. We had to pay a commission to get our buffalo calves out of there, but we did it with a smile on our faces because they were coming home.

On the buffalo ranch

I thought it was neat that maybe Crazy Horse guided this decision and somehow it was for him too. It was a very happy sight to see as we opened the trailer gate and watched them bolt to freedom and run across the pasture of the Brewer Buffalo Ranch back to their waiting mothers. We never took our Buffalo to a sale ring again. It was because of a Sacred Brotherhood. It was a brotherhood that went past this day and our family. It was a brotherhood that was started back in the day as we know Crazy Horse would have been in that brotherhood. All I know is it all happens for a reason and the Sacred Brotherhood was born.

It has been some years ago that I learned these ways and I found this timing to write of them. I was given a very special honor by my leski “uncle” Rick Two Dogs, a very respected Spiritual leader of our people. In a ceremony I was given a society called the Holy Buffalo Society. I don’t know of anyone who was given a society, so this is a very neat honor. I respectfully tell this story as to let everyone know I am ready to teach the people about the return of the buffalo to the diet of our Oyate, to bring back a healthy way of eating and living. We are plagued with diabetes and obesity of this modern world diet. Our youth are eating microwave foods for dinner and the junk foods are not healthy. It is a time that returning to the foods of our culture would greatly help the future generations. The ONE Spirit organization Food Program Sponsorship people and its donors are to be thanked for the efforts to help with healthy foods to our people in need.

 

Story by
ONE Spirit Rep, Oglala Lakota tribal member
Charles “Bamm” Brewer, Lakota name "Nata Hinapa"