CASPER, Wyo. — Identity begins in stories people tell about themselves.
In the tale of Bluebird and the buffalo, as told by Frances Merle Haas, an Arapaho storyteller and director of the Sky People Higher Education Program, a buffalo calf resurrects his Arapaho father:
Once while on a hunt, a man called Bluebird wounds a buffalo in the side; the animal then runs off.
Later, a woman calls from outside Bluebird's lodge. "Bluebird, come here," she cries.
Bluebird sees a buffalo woman and a child. She tells him, "This child is yours."
"But I have no children," he answers.
"I come from the Buffalo Nation," she says. "You shot me here, and now we have this child."
So Bluebird takes his wife and child into his lodge. Soon, the women of the tribe mock the buffalo woman because of her strange ways, and the men start teasing Bluebird.
"I'm going to leave you," the buffalo woman tells Bluebird. "I'm going back to my people, the Buffalo Nation." Son in tow, the buffalo woman departs.
Before long, Bluebird misses his son and resolves to be reunited. As he arrives at the Buffalo Nation, he sees a group of old bulls sitting in a circle. They become angry and demand to know why he has come.
Bluebird tells them he desires to take his son, which only enrages the old bulls. "You can't have your son because of the way the Arapaho people treated one from our nation."
But Bluebird persists. The buffalo see that Bluebird presents himself as brave and honorable; he earns their respect. So they devise a series of four tests.
"If you pass the four tests," the old bulls say, "you can take your son home."
With his son's help, Bluebird passes three tests that involve picking his son from among other buffalo calves. The old bulls are suitably impressed.
The last test requires Bluebird to sit with the bulls as they tell a story. "We're going to sit up for two sunrises, starting now. If you're still awake at the second sunrise, you can take your son home."
So the story begins, first told by one bull, then another. As the tale unfolds, Bluebird grows increasingly tired.
"Father, don't go to sleep," his son urges, "because if you go to sleep, my grandfathers will kill you."
But Bluebird knows fatigue is getting the best of him. He takes an eagle plume from his hair and tells his son, "If anything happens to me, take this eagle plume. And if they kill me, later on, when you get lonesome for me, you come back to this place and put that plume in the ground. You call my name four times, and I will come back."
Bluebird does fall asleep. The bulls try to rouse him, but it's no use. The Buffalo Nation tramples upon Bluebird until nothing remains.
The little buffalo later becomes lonesome for his father and remembers his words. Following his father's instructions, he returns to the place his father was trampled and sticks the eagle plume in the earth.
He begins to call his father's name. Each time he calls, the wind grows stronger, until a whirlwind forms. The fourth time the buffalo calf calls, his father stands before him.