Historical Information and Background
The Cheyenne name means "Little Cree". Another common etymology for Cheyenne is "people of another speech" or, literally, "red talker" (Daining, Crystal). The earliest known written historical records of the Cheyenne people date all the way back to the 17th century (Daining, Crystal). The Cheyenne were once among the most well known plains Indians in North America.
This group of Native Americans is comprised of two smaller groups commonly known as the Suhtai (or Sutaio) and the Tsitsistas (Daining, Crystal). The Cheyenne once took residence in what is now Minnesota but later migrated to the high plains area (Daining, Crystal). Today, this tribe is split into two federally recognized groups, the Northern and Southern Cheyenne (“Cheyenne Tribe”).
The Cheyenne are a spiritual people who value their relationships with one another and the natural world around them, as well as the freedom they find in their way of living (“Cheyenne Tribe”). For example, familial relationships were of great importance and provided individuals with a sense of belonging and freedom within their own groups.
Early Cheyenne depended greatly on fish for their survival (Daining, Crystal). They also mostly lived in earth-lodges until the early 1800s when they began depending on teepees for shelter (Daining, Crystal). This transition was accompanied by another lifestyle shift for the Cheyenne. Their once fish-based diet changed to a diet mainly consisting of wild animal meat, namely that of the buffalo (Daining, Crystal). In order to thrive, the Cheyenne migrated with the buffalo herds. After acquiring horses from the Spanish, migration often took place on horseback (“Cheyenne Tribe”). Interestingly, the Cheyenne introduced horse culture to the Lakota Indians in the mid 1700s, implying their own utilization began much earlier (Daining, Crystal).
The colorful tribe once depended on hunting buffalo for many of its necessities for everyday life. The Cheyenne were able to create items like tools, weapons, and clothing from buffalo bones and hides (“Cheyenne Tribe”). Additionally, the Cheyenne people celebrated their good fortune after a successful hunt (Daining, Crystal). Specific parts of the buffalo like the heart, brain, liver, and kidneys were considered a great honor to eat (Daining, Crystal).
Another aspect of Cheyenne culture was their distinct gender roles; men were expected to be the brave protectors and providers of abundance, while the women, who were thought to be very virtuous in character, were responsible for tending to the children and household (Daining, Crystal).
Rituals were a meaningful part of Cheyenne life. One of the most valued rituals was the smoking of the peace pipe at council meetings. Only the male members of the tribe, which reinforces the gender roles within the Cheyenne, performed the peace pipe smoking ritual (Daining, Crystal). Additionally, the Cheyenne valued storytelling and used the practice as a way of preserving their rich past and language (“Cheyenne Tribe”). The Cheyenne spoke a language known as Algonquian, which, presently, is spoken by very few (“Cheyenne Tribe”).
The first treaty signed by the Cheyenne people was, “...done at the mouth of the Teton River, this sixth day of July, A. D. 1825.” (Kappler) This was just one benchmark in the unhealthy relationship between the Cheyenne Tribe and the United States of America. After the group was officially “colonized” by the treaty, their people were relocated many times to new areas. According to the Northern Cheyenne Tribe’s official website, “The Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation is located in present-day southeastern Montana, and is approximately 444,000 acres in size with 99% tribal ownership. We have approximately 10,840 enrolled tribal members with about 4,939 residing on the reservation.” (cheyennenation.com/index.html). Although today the tribe embraces progression and positivity, they have not always experienced such prosperous times. Throughout the 1800’s, as the people of the Cheyenne Tribe were relocated throughout the Midwest and West, they faced serious problems.
As with many Native American tribes that faced American colonization when they forged westward, the Cheyenne Tribe experienced unfair treatment, cruel transportation conditions, and rampant diseases. These categories only begin to scratch the surface of the outrageous treatment of the Cheyenne Tribe as well as the entire indigenous peoples of North America. Although the Cheyenne Tribe was granted plots of land to use by the American government, they were a Plains tribe whose culture migrated with the buffalo to use as their main food source (Cheyenne Indian Fact Sheet). According to Donald D. Stewart from Clark Atlanta University in the paper Cheyenne-Arapaho Assimilation, “The fact is that the Cheyenne and Arapaho had no extended tradition of farming, little experience as farmers, and were not especially interested in farming. There is no evidence to indicate that any but a negligible proportion ever attempted to farm the allotments.” It is obvious that these people were forced by a foreign government to change their culture and way of life. This negatively impacted Cheyenne social structure, cultural history, and overall health.
Not only did their method of producing food drastically change, but the Cheyenne also experienced devastating illnesses as they lived on their reservations. Gregory R. Campbell, author of The Epidemiological Concequences of Forced Removal: The Northern Cheyenne In Indian Territory, highlighted the terrible health ailments commonly experienced by the tribe, “the Northern Cheyenne experienced malarial infections, measles, and dysentery, resulting in a high degree of morbidity and mortality.” These people were exposed to new diseases that they previously had no contact with, and were placed in areas of low lying swampland that made the spread of disease very widespread. The American government did not equip the Cheyenne Tribe with ample medicine to fight these diseases. Campbell notes, “repeated pleas for more quinine, adequate amounts were not delivered until January of 1879, approximately four months after most of the Northern Cheyenne left for their northern homeland.” These inefficient attempts to help the Cheyenne Tribe left their morale in shambles, and their physical health in terrible condition.
The Northern Cheyenne Tribe’s official website shows hope for a promising future for indigenous people, but the history of the Cheyenne Tribe is a somber reminder of the extreme hardships the culture has endured.
Contemporary Development and Issues
Like many communities throughout the country, the Cheyenne have many different goals that they are trying to accomplish. These goals are a direct representation of what the Cheyenne people find important to their daily lives. It can be seen through the activities that the Cheyenne participate in and host, that of these goals, the bettering of their health care and youth is highly important to them.
One of their main goals is the development of their youth. This can be seen through a number of different programs that the Cheyenne people support and run. An example of this is their pride in their school and helping the youth of their community succeed and grow. The leaders of the tribe organized a youth tournament over the holidays for the children at the Northern Cheyenne Tribal School, which was directed at giving children a safe and productive way to spend their holiday break. This can be seen directly on the homepage of the school’s website indicating the communities pride in bettering the lives of their youth and their pride in their leaders (http://teresamcmaki0.wix.com/ncts-1). Another program aimed at youth is a program that empowers expecting parents. This program is called the Head Start program, which the Cheyenne participate in. The program gives expecting parents knowledge about raising a baby, and what to expect. The Cheyenne people made this program into a “lunch and learn” where expecting parents were invited to learn about their upcoming journey in parenthood as well as enjoy a free lunch. Transportation for the participants was also provided free of charge (http://www.cheyennenation.com/nct/news.html). These resources for expecting parents should have a directly positive effect on the children that they raise, showing again how important it is to the Cheyenne that they provide for their youth.
The Cheyenne people also take health care very seriously and are working to better their health care. They are doing this in many ways. One way the Cheyenne tribe is improving their health care is through awareness. There are a slew of different events that their health department is in charge of to get the word out about different health issues and to raise money in support of these issues. One of these events is the Blue Bingo, which was held last week (http://www.nctribalhealth.org/info/bluebingo.pdf). Blue bingo was not only a fun way to play some bingo, but it also was housing to a health fair where booths were set up for people to learn more about health care in their area. There was also a wellness center on site that provided some services and an oncology (cancer outreach) speaker. This shows that not only is health important but also that information about health should be accessible to the people of the community and that the Cheyenne make this a priority.
These are by no means the only ways that the Cheyenne people are attempting to develop their communities. Health programs and the focus on youth are just two of many different developments of the Cheyenne. They give insight into the community itself and the community’s values.
Campbell, Gregory R. "The Epidemiological Consequences of forced Removal: The Northern In Indian Territory.” Plains Anthropologist 34.124 (1989): 85-97.JSTOR. Web. 3 Mar. 2015. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/25668879>.
"Cheyenne Indian Fact Sheet." Native Languages of the Americas. Native Languages of the Americas, 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 4 Mar. 2015. <http://www.bigorrin.org/cheyenne_kids.htm>.
"Cheyenne Tribe." The Cheyenne Tribe of Native American Indians. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2015
Daining, Crystal. "Cheyenne Tribe: Facts, History & Religion." Study.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2015.
(n.d.): n. pag. Northern Cheyenne Tribal Board of Health. Northern Cheyenne Tribal Board of Health. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.
"Northern Cheyenne News Page." Northern Cheyenne News Page. Northern Cheyenne, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.
"Northern Cheyenne Tribal School." Northern Cheyenne Tribal School. Northern Cheyenne Tribal School, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.
Stewart, Donald D. "Cheyenne Arapaho Assimilation." 13.2 (1952): 120-26. JSTOR. Web. 3 Mar. 2015. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/271544>.