The legend of the White Buffalo is at the core of the Lakota tribe’s spirituality. It tells the story of two Lakota scouts who are approached by a mysterious women dressed in white. One of the scouts is said to have lusted for her and approaches her, despite being warned by the other not to be disrespectful. It does not go well for him but the other scout receives the White Buffalo Calf Woman’s approval for his pure and kind heart and his people are blessed with the “Seven Sacred Rites” meant to protect the Earth.
It is against the backdrop of this story that we learn about the Lakota tribe in South Dakota in director Deborah Anderson’s heartbreaking documentary, Women of the White Buffalo. Despite crushing obstacles to the preservation of their culture and their language, there are women in the tribe who are fighting for their way of life to endure. Only someone with a true warrior’s spirit could face the personal struggles and the historical tragedies of the Lakota people and continue to safeguard their traditions, but these women are following in the footsteps of their matriarchal ancestors and are resolute.
It is so difficult to watch how difficult it is for the Lakota to live on their reservation. Food is extremely expensive and unhealthy. Their water is tainted in some areas and their unemployment rate is astronomical. However, the bigger dangers are rampant meth addiction and trafficking of their young people. It is no wonder that suicide is endemic and so many families have been rocked by the loss of loved ones.
Sun Rose Iron Shell is a teacher who was raised off the reservation but returns to be a teacher and help preserve her culture. She poignantly describes herself as being viewed as some kind of “unicorn” growing up in Colorado but now she lives among many who are unicorns and don’t even realize it. The lack of strong role models and self-pride is repeatedly stressed as being a major hurdle for the young Lakota who are growing up on the reservation. These women are fighting to correct that but they face unbelievable odds, particularly when there are few to no allies on the local and federal government level willing to help.
Women of the White Buffalo is a heartfelt call for that assistance and recognition that the Lakota deserve the respect and support they have long been denied. Covid-19 has decimated the Native American population who did not have the infrastructure to handle the crisis. The women warriors of the Lakota continue to teach their people their traditions, but time is running out as Deborah Anderson’s film shows.