Native Sun News: Leaders of Northern Cheyenne Tribe slammed

The following story was written and reported by Clara Caufield, Native Sun News Correspondent. All content © Native Sun News.

The flag of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. Photo from Facebook

Traditional spiritual leaders chastise Tribal Council
‘Kiss your full-time paychecks goodbye’
By Clara Caufield
Native Sun News Correspondent

LAME DEER, Mont. –– Don Shoulderblade severely scolded the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council for poor attendance, job performance and selfishness. He is a traditional Cheyenne crier, ceremonial man with the traditional “right to speak in public,” called upon by tribal members to make public announcements.

“I come in a good way on behalf of my people. You must respect the Cheyenne people. Right now, you are acting like white men – only interested in your own pocket books, not looking at the Cheyenne people. We are in great distress,” he said.

In traditional Northern Cheyenne protocol, Shoulderblade was within his rights: he is a Sun Dance Priest or “Holy Man” former Keeper of the Sacred Hat (one of the two critical Northern Cheyenne covenants with Maheo’o – the Creator); former tribal council member; descendant of famous Northern Cheyenne warrior Brave Wolf and his father Wendell “Turkey” Shoulderblade selflessly served the Tribe for over twenty years as a council member and Vice-President, honored when the tribal elderly complex was named after him.

“That might give me the right to say something for our people,” the traditional Cheyenne leader summarized.

At issue is the full-time 10 member salaried tribal council (paid $22 per hour or $47,000 per year) established under 1996 Tribal Constitution amendment. Before, a Tribal council of 22 members was paid $75.00 per meeting based on attendance costing the Tribe less than $50,000 per year.

Since then, the cost of tribal council has risen to nearly one million dollars per year. Many community members suggest that has created a special class of “high pork rolling politicians” in stark contrast to most tribal members who live on a reservation which suffers some of the highest unemployment and related socio-economic problems in the nation.

“Though our community constitutional amendment process, we are going to do away with your full-time council jobs. Kiss your full-time paychecks goodbye. Get used to being a poor Cheyenne again,” said Jennifer Redfox, community organizer.

Though scheduled to address the Tribal Council at 9 a.m., Shoulderblade and supportive community members had to wait until 10:15 a.m. before the Tribal Council convened, before that huddled in a closed “working session.” In unusual circumstance, a B.I.A. police officer stood guard, presumably at the request of the Tribal Council. That contemporary officer of the law was flanked by members of the Crazy Dogs military society who quietly rimmed the perimeter of the Council chambers.

“Traditional law takes precedence over all other law,” noted tribal elder Linwood Tallbull.

“I ask the Tribal Council to do your job. People trusted you, but our current leadership is not doing its’ job,” said Shoulderblade. “I ask that you respect the Cheyenne people. You are supposed to work from eight to five every day receiving good wage, $22 an hour. Most days there is nobody here at 8 a.m. and most days the Council offices are empty, except for Merlin Sioux, faithful Lame Deer Council person. Yet, you all fill out 80 hour timesheets every two weeks approved by the Tribal President and Vice-President."

"That is fraud. You are stealing the money from the federal government and the Cheyenne people who pay your wages,” he bluntly pronounced. “This will stop. We demand accountability and transparency. People are looking at you. I am speaking to you on behalf of the Cheyenne people, who are often afraid, especially tribal employees.”

Shoulderblade also referenced a recent article written by tribal elder Linwood Tallbull published in “A Cheyenne Voice,” harshly criticizing council and suggesting they should be “spanked,” that is, whipped, chastised and humiliated in a traditional manner by the military societies for failure of duty. He addressed the subdued council members, President Fisher, Vice President Winfield Russell and Tribal Secretary Melissa Lonebear who all refused public comment. The crowd however frequently applauded and lulooed as speakers addressed the Council, using a personal microphone system Shoulderblade brought to ensure the speakers would be clearly heard.

Don Shoulderblade. Photo from Ohio University

Community concerns were raised. “Right now, we are a laughing stock in Indian Country,” Shoulderblade said. “This has to stop. We must follow leadership established by our ancestors, Chuggy Rowland, my father and others. They lived their lives for the people and died poor because they sacrificed for the people. And we honored them. Today, you guys act like white men, just wanting the money, traveling around, eating at fancy cafes and acting like big shots and buying new cars.”

The Crazy Dog Society lined the back walls of the Council chambers in solidarity. In traditional times, the Crazy Dogs were the “whip Carriers,” at the direction of the Chiefs publicly shaming and punishing tribal members, especially tribal leaders who violated traditional laws. Those traditional leaders agreed to the IRA government style of government in 1934.

At that time they said, “If it does not work, we can take it back” Shoulderblade reminded the Tribal Council. “That is why we can still drag you out of here, whip you and take our leadership back,” Shoulderblade reminded the Tribal Council. “We are not doing that now; we are giving you a chance to change – to straighten out. Act like Cheyennes.”

Shoulderblade is demanding an investigation into a $7,200 severance check Tang received from Busby School after being terminated from a coaching position there.

“I want that done sooner rather than later,” he said. “In July we will be back. We drive by the Tribal office every day and every day we will be looking at you.”

President Fisher thanked the speakers and promised to take their concerns under advisement.

“We want more than that. We demand action,” Shoulderblade concluded to wide audience approval.

Telephone calls to each of the Council members for comment about this story either found them “not in” or were not returned. However, after the Tribal Council meeting described in this story, tribal member Pat McMakin said he overheard some Council members, including his brother Oly McMakin, Muddy District Council member and William Rowland, Lame Deer District laughing, joking and sending cell phone texts during and after the meeting:

“We got through that,” they apparently said.

“Disrespectful or what?” McMakin remarked.

(Clara Caufield can be reached at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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