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Lois Red Elk Dreams Of Buffalo

Lakota/Dakota Poet and Elder Shares A New Rumination On A Western Icon
By Lois Red Elk | April 15, 2024


EDITOR’S NOTE: The free-verse poetry and essays of Lakota/Dakota elder Lois Red Elk are beloved by many who have followed her work over the years. Red Elk is making her debut at Yellowstonian with a regular column she has named “Inyan Zi Voices;” inyan zi means “yellow stone” in Lakota which we think, of course, is most appropriate. The poem below is among a collection of works that soon will appear in a forthcoming new volume. Making her home in the prairie town of Fort Peck, Montana not far from where the Mighty Missouri River forms the sea-like Fork Peck Reservoir, Red Elk has been a writing instructor at Fort Peck Community College and a local champion of welcoming Yellowstone bison that have been transported from the park to northern Montana, strengthening the foundation of a growing tribal herd. Over her long and colorful life, Red Elk has been an actress in Hollywood, a social justice activist, public radio talk show host in Pasadena, California and advocate who leaned on the film industry to actually cast indigenous people in indigenous acting roles rather than giving them to non-Indians. Lois has been ecstatic seeing the praise earned by Montana Blackfeet actress Lily Gladstone who earned an Academy Award nomination for her role in Killers of the Flower Moon. You’ll learn more about Lois in the months ahead. Meantime, enjoy this poem.  —Yellowstonian


 Dreaming Buffalo

By Lois Red Elk



It was chilly that night, a slight breath of river

began wandering across town where dry lawns 

needed moisture settling in trees, on homes and 

grass, creeping up the stairs, urging me to pull 

blankets from the closet. Trying to curl up in the 

folds of several quilts, icy limbs not moving, not 

wanting to get up, I began searching for warmth. 

Seeing the buffalo robe on the foot bench I pull it 

over the bed, instant comfort for cold body. I relax 

into deep sleep. Spirit rising begins drifting through 

rooms, out the door, on to the grass, the night air.

At first a sound like kids driving by, car radio full 

blast, a thumping from stereos that slowly faded

down the street. Then it came again, only this time 

the volume was thundering and paced like horses 

moving  at a slow run back to the barn. Were kids 

riding horseback at this hour? Moonlight filtering

through spaces above treetops, clouds drifted in

like familiar beings or spirits passing by. Wanting 

to get closer, see this strange movement brought me 

close to waking. No! I didn’t want this dream to stop.

Slowing heartbeat I carefully floated toward the sound,

the energy. Coming up the street eyes made out huge 

lumbering shadows from some distant lands where 

earth opened a space for buffalo needing to run, run 

into a place where a dreaming one welcomed these 

kind of spirits, where remembering ancient ritual

opened my mind. Their breath like river fog floated

over pacing shoulders, hooves a drum of their own.

This memory recognized their spirit voices coming 

from a thousand years. Concrete and streets begin to

slowly crumble, houses and cars were pushed into the 

distance, light poles fell away as buffalo pulsed from 

one time into this age. Feeling my tongue go silent, 

their deep voices echoed off the trees, “We are coming, 

We are coming.” Inhaling deeply to absorb all the life 

from vision, all the messages from voice, all the gifts

from song, all the healing from spirit, hands extended,

reached deeply into the dream, into that parallel world.

I closed my eyes, the sacred too much to bear. I bowed 

my head, and in an ancient voice thanked the Gods below

for this portal opening in a forgotten place, a place the

ancestors said would awaken for the right moment. When 

I opened my eyes the last of the four-legged entities were

drifting gently in the breath of accompanying fog. Mist

descending, quieted the street, relieved earth, returned

the dreamer to calm and left a new presence to live with.

©Lois Red Elk


  • Lois Red Elk

    Lois Red Elk-Reed is a poet who calls the high plains home. She is Yellowstonian's poet in residence. She lives on the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana. Red Elk is working on a new volume of poetry and other observations. The name of her column— inyan zi—means “yellow stone” in Lakota.

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