Spiritual encounter with white buffalo humbles reader

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 30, 2012

Dale Nemeth, holding First Nations flutes made for him by Helmer Twoyoungmen, honours his time with Teton, a white buffalo. Photo, left, by Warren Harbeck; right, by Dale Nemeth

Last week’s column on Stoney Nakoda wisdom led to a visit with a local photographer profoundly affected by his recent encounter with a white buffalo and the Stoney family that helped him understand its meaning.

Dale Nemeth, whose heritage artistry never ceases to amaze me, sat me down at Cochrane Coffee Traders the other day and shared with me one of the most important events of his life: being in the prayerful presence of Teton.

Teton is the six-year-old white buffalo bull from South Dakota which has been Stan and Gloria Cowley’s guest at their Rafter Six Ranch Resort, near Seebe, for the past year-and-a-half.

A white buffalo has great spiritual significance among First Nations folks. Teton’s presence at the ranch is seen by many as a source of blessing to our whole valley.

After reading last week’s column, Dale emailed me that he wanted to tell me over coffee about his time with Gloria, Stan and Teton, which “involved a very kind soul, Helmer Twoyoungmen, his wife, Doris, and an enchanted meeting with Helmer’s sister, Irene.”

Helmer is a Stoney Nakoda elder, entertainer and cultural educator (see my column for March 12, 2008). He’s currently involved in set design and construction for a major motion picture being filmed near his home at Morley. Irene is a traditional elder revered by many for her understanding of the sacred.

Dale went on in his note to explain how he met Teton. He said he was “drawn into this meeting by chance” while driving to Banff with a friend. He stopped at the Rafter Six Ranch for what he thought would be just a quick visit with Stan and Gloria.

As he was about to leave, Gloria asked Dale whether he’d seen their white buffalo.

“I was beside myself,” Dale said. “I went to the corral where Teton is staying and just stood there, lost in thought. To me, learning the significance of such a creature for First Nations culture, seeing the prayer cloths . . . made for a very humbling day.

“During the next week, I became obsessed with putting my own prayer cloth on the pole.”

That’s when he contacted his friend Helmer to set up a time when he could assist Dale in a ceremony with Teton. Dale told me the rest of the story in person.

Helmer arranged for a time when Irene could join them, Dale said. At the ceremony, after examining Dale on his motives for wanting to do this, Irene smudged the four prayer cloths Dale had brought, selecting an orange one to be tied to the prayer pole. Then she and Helmer asked Dale to lead them to Teton.

“My entire everything was laid open,” Dale said. “I’ve never felt like that in my life, ever. At that point I was nothing.”

You don’t ask for anything for yourself, Dale recalled Irene saying to him about praying in the presence of the white buffalo. “You ask for everybody around you.”

After he sprinkled an offering of tobacco, the ceremony ended.

Some days later, Helmer delivered to Dale a pair of First Nations flutes he’d made at Dale’s request, symbols of their time together with Teton.

“I see the friendships we made that day not only as physical,” Dale says now. “I see them as music.”


© 2012 Warren Harbeck

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