Chiefs of the Northern Cheyenne: Little Coyote, left, and Morning Star. Image: Smithsonian Institution

Clara Caufield: Northern Cheyenne Tribe confronts new blood challenge

Moccasin Telegraph main source of info without our leader
By Clara “Clem” Caufield
Native Sun News Today Columnist

It has been extremely challenging to extract information from the Northern Cheyenne tribal offices via telephone. Except for a few loyal secretaries such as Barbara Spang (in her eighties); Maxine Limberhand, the now-lonely executive assistant to the Tribal President who left office last week and Christine Strange Owl, tribal council secretary, the majority of tribal employees seem to be absent, using up annual leave, while awaiting new leadership.

Thus, it is necessary to rely on the new version of the “Moccasin Telegraph” (Facebook) for this column, discussing a proposed resolution which would dramatically change requirements for enrollment in the Northern Cheyenne Tribe: From the current system of lineal descendants (tracing your heritage or blood line to an original enrolled person in 1884) to being at least 50% Northern Cheyenne on the paternal side.

That would drastically reduce the number of people eligible for enrollment, presently about 13,000. For example, it would eliminate me as my Cheyenne blood goes to my mother. It would, however include my children who trace the majority of their blood to their father. But if they marry non-Indians or non-Cheyenne, their children would then be ineligible.

A little historical perspective regarding this proposal is in order. According to historical estimates, the Northern Cheyenne Nation was about 10,000 strong before conflict with the White man. Sometimes called the “wildest” of the wild Indians, the Northern Cheyenne sought to avoid contact with the whites, allying themselves with the Sioux. One of our most famous Chiefs, Morning Star (Cheyenne name) or Dull Knife (Sioux name) was a “half-breed” Cheyenne and Sioux.

Of course, avoidance was not possible and so by 1884, after much tragic conflict and warfare, the number of Cheyenne had shrunk to a mere few hundred.

Survival of those was closely linked to the sacred covenants which guide and sustain our people and the prophecies and teachings of Sweet Medicine, our Prophet. A key teaching from him was “Do not marry your relatives”, a very wise admonition for a small group of people.

Fresh blood and genes are ever necessary to avoid in-breeding and to encourage “hybrid vigor,” that is the blending the best traits of both bloodlines. Even to this day, the matriarchs (the Grandmothers) keep up this tradition, saying to a young person “You cannot go around with this one or that one, because you are related,” then going into great detail about how you are 9th or 10th cousins or something to that effect.

That is a primary reason that the Northern Cheyenne, like most tribal people raided, seeking horses, women and children to strengthen the Tribe. It was custom to marry people from other Tribes and bring back children for those Cheyenne who did have them, a great blessing.

I like to think that the few hundred Cheyenne who survived until 1884 would be pleased to have many descendants. They made great sacrifice so that the “Human Beings” might continue existence.


Support Native media!

Read the rest of the story on Native Sun News Today: Moccasin Telegraph main source of info without our leader

Clara “Clem” Caufield can be reached at

Copyright permission Native Sun News Today

Join the Conversation