What is the Cheyenne Nation?

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  • Written By: Jason C. Chavis
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The Cheyenne Nation is a population of Native Americans in the United States. Located in the Great Plains, they comprise two distinct bands in different parts of the country. One group lives on a reservation in the Black Hills of Montana, while the other forms a federally-recognized tribe of Cheyenne and Arapaho. This merged band lives on government land trusts or amongst the general population in Oklahoma. According to the federal government, approximately 4,400 people live on the Cheyenne reservation, while 8,000 live in the Oklahoma area.

The Cheyenne Indians speak a derivative of the Algonquian language and are believed to have descended from the parent nation sometime in the 1500s. Anthropologists trace them to the Great Lakes region around Minnesota. After moving to the Dakotas, they merged into a single tribe in the 1800s to leverage their numbers against white American incursion. At the same time, they found themselves entrenched in conflict with the Kiowa and Lakota tribes. At this time, the Cheyenne Nation adopted the ways of the Plains Indian tribes, a portion moved south to Colorado.


In the late 1800s, the Cheyenne Nation became central to the Native American war with Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer. US troops attacked a reservation on 27 November 1868, killing over 100 Cheyenne, many women and children among them. Eight years later, the tribe joined with the Lakota and Arapaho to form a force of roughly 900 to 1,800 warriors and built an encampment at Little Bighorn River. On 25 June 1876, Custer led the under 700 troops of the 7th Cavalry Regiment into battle against the tribes in the Battle of Little Bighorn. The cavalry was effectively wiped out by the Cheyenne and their allies in what became known as Custer's Last Stand.

Following the Battle of Little Bighorn, the Northern Cheyenne were pursued heavily by US forces. Eventually, they gave into demands and were granted a reservation relatively near the battlefield. The Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation was established on 16 November 1884 by President Chester A. Arthur. It measures approximately 371,200 acres (roughly 1,502 square km) and contains about a half-dozen cities and Chief Dull Knife Community College. Much of the area is used for coal mining.

The Southern Cheyenne were not involved in Custer's Last Stand. Instead, they formed an alliance with the Arapaho for combined hunting territories. Threatened by the US government, they both signed treaties which placed them near Fort Reno in Indian Territory, which eventually became Oklahoma. In 1887, the Dawes Act broke up the reservation and divided the lands amongst the individual members. This created a situation of poverty amongst many in the Southern Cheyenne Nation tribe, which still lasts to this day.


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