WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures


Buffalo Dreams

Written by Kim Donor
Westwinds Press, 1999, 40 pp.
ISBN: 978-1558684768

Maybe magic doesn’t make you do something special.Maybe you do something special, and it makes magic (p. 27).

While watching T.V. and adding to the dream catcher she’s had since childhood, Sarah Bearpaw hears the news of the birth of a white buffalo, the only one in the world. Because of tribal stories that have been passed down, Sarah knows that the baby buffalo is a sign of good things to come. Sarah and her family quickly prepare to make the trip to visit the new baby buffalo. Sarah has decided to give the feather from her grandfather’s headdress as a gift to the buffalo. Sarah’s father is impressed with her unselfishness because the feather is a symbol of strength. He tells Sarah that to give away strength has rewards.

Upon reaching the campground where the white buffalo roams, Sarah’s family pitch their tents for the night. The next day, they plan to take their gifts and hang them from the tree for the white buffalo. Joe, Sarah’s younger brother, wishes that he could touch the buffalo so that he could become magic. Sarah secretly wishes the same. During the middle of the night, Sarah wakes up and notices that Joe is gone. She knows exactly where to look for him. Sarah finds Joe climbing over the fence into the buffalo pen. Angry and in fear for her baby calf, the mother buffalo bellows as she moves toward Joe. Sarah jumps in front of Joe, protective of her little brother, and asks the mother buffalo to please let them go safely. Suddenly, the baby white buffalo walks past his mother and places his nose in Sarah’s hands. Sarah has touched magic.

The white buffalo is a sacred symbol for many American Indian Nations. The chances of a white buffalo being born are one in ten million. The author wrote this book based on the story of a real white buffalo, Miracle, born in 1994, whom people drove many miles to see (http://whitebuffalomiracle.homestead.com/). Although the white buffalo is an important symbol for Native Americans, the dream catcher also has significance within the culture and around the world. An authentic tradition to the Ojibway tribe (http://www.nativetech.org/dreamcat/dreamcat.html), the legend of the dream catcher is that bad dreams will not be able to pass through it, keeping children safe from nightmares. Sarah’s dream catcher had hung above her bed since she was born. She even hung it from a tree as she slept in her sleeping bag on her trip to see the white buffalo.

The story is significant because the author wrote it as contemporary literature. The characters in this story wear modern clothing, live in a modern house, watch T.V., and drive a vehicle as well as camp out in a sleeping bag, not a tipi. It is important for all readers to see Native cultures represented in modern stories since often they are trapped in history and, in particular, in Thanksgiving stories. While the family names in the story are ones that might be considered stereotypes, these names are found in contemporary settings. Sarah’s family’s last name is Bearpaw and a friend is Greg Little Wolf.

The author wrote this story based on the legend of “White Buffalo Calf Woman.” Although the legend has been transformed as it has been passed through generations and among different tribes, the common belief is that a helpful spirit becomes a white buffalo and continues to help others prosper. The author and illustrator, Kim Doner, uses realistic paintings to bring the story to life with many of the plains tribes represented in the gifts left for the calf. These gifts are found in art from the Sioux, Kiowa, Potawatomi, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Cherokee, Osage, and Ojibway tribes. Doner explains that she chose not to make the Bearpaw family a part of a specific tribe because the real white buffalo, Miracle, was visited by all tribes and so many other people from around the world. She states that she wanted to keep it open for people in hopes that they would focus on the meaning of the story, not the specifics (Kim Doner, personal communication, September 19, 2011). Donor is originally from Oklahoma where she still lives and works as an artist. She has Cherokee roots and her interest in Native American life is evident in her work.

This book is great for discussion on a variety of topics in Native American literature along with other books. For more information on the American buffalo, read They Came from the Bronx (2001) by Neil Waldman, a story of how buffalo were saved from extinction. For another example of contemporary Native American literature, read The Good Luck Cat (2000) by Joy Harjo. To extend the topic of Native American legends, read The Legend of the Buffalo Woman by Paul Goble (2002).

Abby Weyen, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK

2 thoughts on “WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures

  1. Hello,
    How I wish I had found this posting before I submitted my changes for the paperback version of Karma! As you can imagine it is not easy to write of Indian culture as a foreigner. All assurances to readers that I did enlist the help of three Indo-Canadian writers for assistance with the language (one writer of HIndu descent and two Sikh-Punjabi writers). Not only did they read for accuracy but also made many of the additions that you refer to as incorrect. Sigh. It is so difficult to get things right. Writing Karma was a very risky undertaking that I spent three years on. To explore both a culture and the dire political situation of 1984 as an outsider was fraught with peril but I was committed to telling this important story. My hope was to bring to light the relatively unknown massacre of the Sikhs to the general community as well as write about the difficulties of immigration, identity and adolescence. It was a work of passion that I am proud of. Many thanks for taking the time to read Karma and offer your thoughts. I learned much for your post. All my best, Cathy Ostlere

  2. Shri Ramakrishnan says:

    Hello Cathy,
    Thank you for your gracious response! I thoroughly enjoyed reading the novel and was stunned at the meticulous descriptions of daily life in India, especially considering that your first visit to India was not exactly very pleasurable. India is complex and it is very challenging to view it as a single entity or a single theoretical construct. I admire and applaud your resolve to write a novel about my homeland despite the challenges of being an outsider. And I also applaud your thematic choice for the main plot – the riots following Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination are some of the least known and least discussed topics of Indian politics. I hope you will be writing another such powerful story set in India pretty soon! Warmest regards, Shri Ramakrishnan

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