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northern cheyenne tribe

The Northern Cheyenne Indians originally dwelt near the Red River of the North. They met whites at an early date and were reported by the French as early as 1680.

When Lewis and Clark met them in 1804, they were living on the plains near the Black Hills. They changed at about this time from an agricultural people to a typical plains Tribe.

There are over 6,700 enrolled members of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Tribe. Many of them live on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, along with non-tribal members, or members of other Tribes.

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The United States Government as defined by the United States Constitution has governmental relationships with International, Tribal, and State entities. The Tribal nations have a government-to-government relationship with the United States. The Tribes of the Northern Plains signed treaties in the 1800's with the United States which are the legal documents that established Tribal land boundaries and recognized Tribal rights as a sovereign government.

The Northern Cheyenne Tribal lands were originally reduced to a reservation with defined boundaries by Executive Order of the President of the United States in November, 1884 which identified a tract of land west of the Tongue River. The Tribal government maintains jurisdiction within the boundaries of the reservation including all rights-of-way, waterways, watercourses and streams running through any part of the reservation and to such others lands as may hereafter be added to the reservation under the laws of the United States.

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe was organized in 1936 and operates under a constitution consistent with the Indian Reorganization Act and approved by the Tribal membership. Today the Tribe is a Federally-chartered organization with both governmental and corporate responsibilities. The governing body is a Tribal Council headed by a President, who is elected at large to serve a term of 4 years. The tribal council consist of members elected from each of the five districts. The Vice President and a Sergeant-at-Arms are elected by the tribal council from within its number and a Secretary and Treasurer are appointed outside its number. The Secretary and Treasurer have no vote.

The tribal council consists of members elected from the Ashland, Birney, Busby, Muddy, and Lame Deer districts in the proportion of one member for each 200 population and an additional member for each major fraction thereof. The current governing body has 19 members. The total enrollment for the Tribe is 6,386 members.

Tribal/Agency Headquarters: Lame Deer, Montana
Counties: Big Horn, Rosebud, Montana
Federal Reservation: Yes
Population of enrolled members: 6,591
Reservation population: 4,371
Labor force: 1,826
Unemployment rates: 46%
Language: Cheyenne, English

Land Status Acres
Total Area 444,775
Tribal Owned 327,547
Allotted Owned 113,277
Total Tribal/Allotted Owned 440,824
Non-Indian Owned 2,348


The Northern Cheyenne Servi ce Unit is located in south-central Montana and its western boundaries border the Crow Reservation.The topography of the reservation varies from grass covered low rolling hills to moderately high and steep hills and narrow valleys. Elevations on the reservation range from 3,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level. Much of the higher elevation is covered by Ponderosa Pine timber.

Bordered on the west by the Crow Indian Reservation, the 440,000 plus acre Northern Cheyenne Reservation is made up of valleys and plateaus, rivers, streams, and prairies. The area is very well acclimated to farming and ranching, both of which are important to the economy of the Tribe.

The principle communities on the reservation are as follows:

ASHLAND - Located 20 miles east of Lame Deer and is situated along the Tongue River, which is the reservationís eastern boundary. The Labre Indian School and St. Labre Mission complex are located here. The people on the reservation generally shop here. Approximately 981 Indian people reside here.

BIRNEY - Located upriver from Ashland and about 22 miles southwest of Lame Deer. Approximately 112 Indian people reside here and is primarily a small unorganized residential area.


The Northern Cheyenne Indians originally dwelt near the Red River of the North. They met whites at an early date and were reported by the French as early as 1680. When Lewis and Clark met them in 1804, they were living on the plains near the Black Hills. They changed at about this time from an agricultural people to a typical plains Tribe.


The Cheyenne participated in the treaty making in 1825, near present Fort Pierre, South Dakota. A few years later, a large part of the Tribe decided to move southward and make permanent headquarters on the Arkansas River. The remainder continued to rove the plains near the headwaters of the North Platte and Yellowstone Rivers. The separation of the Cheyenne Tribe was recognized by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851.

The Northern Cheyenne joined the Sioux in the Sitting Bull War in 1876. Finally subdued, they were taken "prisoners of war" to Fort Reno, Oklahoma, to be colonized with the Southern Cheyenne. They went unwillingly and refused to remain. A desparate effort to escape resulted in most of the group being killed. Little Wolf and some 60 followers managed to escape to the North. Finally defeated, they were placed on their present reservation in 1884.

The original Reserve, set aside by Executive Order of President Arthur, consisted of approximately 271,000 acres between the Crow Reservation and an imaginary line 10 miles west of the Tongue River which has remained unchanged and consists of 444,160 acres.


The reservation has an average temperature of 46oF. The highest temperature recorded was 109oF and the lowest was -38oF. Snow is sometimes heavy/damp and occasionally the roads become snow-packed and icy in places. However, the highway maintenance department keeps the roads passable through the winter so schools are set closed. Each year averages 185 clear days, 102 partly cloudy, and 78 cloudy days. Average relative humidity is 25 to 35 percent.


U.S. Highway 212 crosses the resrvtion from west to east, passing through Busby, Lame Deer, and Ashland, Montana. Secondary road 39, an all-weather oiled highway, runs from Lame Deer north through Colstrip and on to Forsyth, Montana. A paved road maintained by the BIA runs from Ashland to Birney, Montana. The Lame Deer-Birney road is paved. An oiled road also runs from Busby to Kiraby, and a paved road joins this to Highway 87 at Decker, Montana. There are no scheduled bus routes through the reservation. The nearest bus depots are at Crow Agency -41 miles and Forsyth -58 miles. The nearest air transportation facilities are in Billings, which is served aby Big Sky, Delta, Horizon, Northwest and United. There is a small aircraft airstrip in Ashland and Hardin, Montana.


There are over 6,700 enrolled members of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Tribe. Many of them live on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, along with non-tribal members, or members of other Tribes.

A major occupation on the reservation is cattle ranching and farming for a number of Tribal operators. Major employers on the reservation include the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Inc., (tribal government operations); Bureau of Indian Afairs, Indian Health Service and educational institutions. There are businesses which serve the local community i.e., gas stations, grocery stores, cafes, and repair shops. Major employers adjacent to the reservation are Western Energy Company (mine operations), Montana Power company (electrical power), and Northern Cheyenne Pine Company, (sawmill operations).

The communities on the reservation are very small and quite limited for services. The tribal government, the Indian Health Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs all have their headquarters in Lame Deer. Forsyth, Colstrip and Hardin, all off-reservation towns, have ample shopping and services for residents of the reservation. All three towns are less than an hourís drive away. Billings, the largest city in Montana, is about two hours away from the reservation, and offers excellent shopping, theater, symphony, museums and a commercial airport.


Public schools are available for grades pre-school and K-12 in Lame Deer. Ashland houses the St. Labre Indian High School or students may decide to attend public high school in Colstrip. Also in Colstrip are three public elementary schools, a middle school and a transportation system which serves all grade levels. Those attending school after grade 12 may choose to attend the Dull Knife Community College in Lame Deer. The institution offers several associate degree programs.


The St. Labre Indian School in Ashland was established in 1884 by the Franciscan Order. Today it is a visitor center, museum and gallery, all of which show much of the Indian culture and heritage as it once was. Some interesting spots on or near the reservation are the Chief Two Moons Monument in Busby, the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Museum in Lame Deer, the Battle of the Little Bighorn Monument, the Decker Coal Mine, and the Tongue River Reservoir.

There is abundant wildlife, such as whitetail and mule deer, antelope, elk and countless game birds. Hiking, exploring, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, snowmobiling, fishing and hunting are all recreational activities enjoyed on the reservation.


The Norhern Cheyenne Tribe desires to continue progress in providing for our people and the development of increased self-sufficiency. There are plans underway to develop natural and cultural resources to preserve traditions and educate Tribal members and non-members, and strengthen the economy on the reservation. The Tribe will continue to search for ways to maintain our culture and develop new economic opportunities for our future generations.

Environmental Summary:

Tribal Lands Acres
Agriculture 30,585
Grazing 273,298
Forestry 147,764

Environmental Problem Statement: In 1997, Tribal environmental staff identified water resource management as the major reservation water problem.

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