White Buffalo?

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 24, 2022

Framed print of my Oct. 29, 2015 column by Keith Logan

A record-breaking six feet of snow in Buffalo, New York, this past weekend? Wow! And we here in Cochrane grumble when we have to brush just six inches of snow off our car in the morning.

But I was born in Buffalo. Heavy snowfalls are quite the norm. In fact, they could be a bit of fun. For instance, when I’d be walking to school while in Grade 2, I delighted in climbing the snowbanks along the side of the road, and I could pretend I was climbing mountains.

Now, there’s an interesting connection between a snow-white Buffalo and the topic I’d originally intended to write about this week. Renowned Cochrane-area custom woodworker and photographer Keith Logan—keithlogan.com—had contacted me about joining him for coffee at Smitty’s. When I arrived, he handed me a copy of his 2023 calendar featuring his artistically sensitive nature images.

Awesome! But then he handed me another package and asked me to unwrap it. I could barely believe my eyes! He had held onto a column of mine from seven years ago, printed it, mounted it and framed it, and was giving it to me as a gift! It was my Oct. 29, 2015 column on the 50th anniversary of my arrival in the land of the Stoney Nakoda, featuring two stories from my relationship with the late Stoney Nakoda Elder Jacob House. And intriguingly, they would segue rather naturally into this past weekend’s headlines of a snow-white Buffalo.

A couple of years into our time in Stoney Country, we resided for a while in the satellite community of Big Horn, located along the North Saskatchewan River an hour west of Rocky Mountain House in one of the most picturesque parts of the Eastern Slopes of the Canadian Rockies.

While at Big Horn, we were embraced by Jacob and Mary House. The couple were born in the later 1800s. Those were the challenging, self-reliant days soon after the great Ta Otha (tah-OH-thah, “Moose Killer”) of the Stoney Nakoda Nation led a band of his people away from Morley and into the Kootenay Plains. This was an area of fenceless expanses, rich in moose, elk, deer and big horn sheep where horses could graze and people could set up tepees in a respectful relationship among each other, the land, and the Creator.

Since naming is so important in the Stoney way, Jacob soon told me the story of how he got his own name.

One cold, snowy winter day when he was still just a babe in arms, his mother had taken him outside with her and some of the other women while they set up tepee poles. She had wrapped him in his moss bag and placed him on a knee-high stack of blankets above the snow.

The women were so involved in their work they hadn’t noticed that he’d managed to roll himself off the blankets. When one of the women went to check on him, she found him face down in the snow. Picking him up, she snuggled his very cold hands in her bosom and called out to his mother: “Eeeee, dathagach!” (dah-THAH-gahch, “he’s frozen!”).

Obviously, they succeeded in thawing him out. A name was in order, however, and he was known ever after as Dathagen (dah-thah-GAYDN, “Frozen One”).

Well, that may have been his name, but his relationship toward us was anything but frozen. Indeed, so warmly did the House family welcome us that it wasn’t long before he decided to call me mîchîksi (meen-CHEENK-shee, “my son”) and told me I was to call him ade (ah-DAY, “my father”). He also gave me the name Tatâga Thkan (tah-TAHNG-gah THKAHDN, “White Buffalo”).

White Buffalo? Yes, but not this past weekend’s snowy kind in Western New York. This white buffalo refers to the albino buffalo, sacred symbol of hope. The name Jacob House gave me came with his wish that I, like my namesake, would be a harbinger of hope for the community. So, thank you, Ade and Keith. May I practice this deeper meaning of White Buffalo with all I meet along life’s way.


© 2022 Warren Harbeck

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