Clara Caufield: Northern and Southern Cheyenne are still related

Clara Caufield. Photo from Native News Project / University of Montana School of Journalism

Northern and Southern Cheyenne: We are all related
By Clara Caufield
A Cheyenne Voice

Recently, due to my good friend Talli Nauman, Native Sun Health and Environment Editor, I found myself in Oklahoma City for a week long hiatus, a speaker at the 25th convention of the Society for Environmental Journalists, of which she is one.

This was a big treat, having been long chained to a computer in White River Cheyenne Country (Busby, Montana) Northern Cheyenne Reservation for the past five years in order to produce A Cheyenne Voice newspaper. During that time, I’ve traveled a small geographic circle, rarely getting further than Sheridan, Wyoming or Billings, Mont. and every two weeks to Miles City, Mont. to pick up the newspaper.

Thus, the opportunity to go to America specifically Oklahoma City was enticing. My Montana kinsmen joked, “Why would a Northern Cheyenne (Suhtai) want to go back to Oklahoma?”

When the Delta Airlines flight circled the metropolitan area, I looked down at the vast sea of city lights, asking my seatmate how many people lived there. “About 1.3 million,” he replied. Gee whiz! That is about one half more million than inhabit the whole State of Montana. And upon arrival at the Embassy Suites Hotel, I found out that there were more people at the conference than where I live.

So, I gave a speech, trying to translate our reality to others. After that, I attended several workshops, learning about climate change, global warming, the perils of oil/gas and coal production and how awful the human race is treating endangered species. We must save the whales!

I was, however, rather limited on “walking around” money, starkly reminded of how lonely a big city can be. Here in White River Cheyenne Country, we know everyone. Sometimes we squabble, but during that last dreadful week before the “1st” or even before that when broke, help one another out. We “recognize” one another.

That is why the best part of my Oklahoma trip was meeting Chris and Donna Tallbear, Southern Cheyennes. I first became acquainted with Chris, a very thoughtful person through the internet. He often emails, commenting on my scribblings which somehow fly through cyberspace. A few days before my departure to Oklahoma he happened to email me. In response, I said that I would be traveling to where he and his lovely wife live.

In our finest tradition, they invited me to share a meal and conversation. Thus, on Saturday, when I was decidedly low on “walking around” money they picked me up at the fancy hotel; took me out to a wonderful brunch at a regular place and ferried me to their home for an old fashioned visit.

Chris, named Moe’eh (Magpie) is a member of the Kitfox Society, and fluent Cheyenne speaker; a Sun Dancer who has “put-up” Sun Dance two times knowing many Northern Cheyenne, naming them both by white and Cheyenne names. Nobody could make that up.

And then, in traditional style, they gifted me. Wonderful posters of Indian art work, some sage he carried through Sun Dance sent to Montana for a sister-friend experiencing some trouble; and a CD of sweat songs made by a mutual friend, the late Lee Lonebear, a highly respected and regarded Northern Cheyenne ceremonial man who often traveled to Oklahoma to visit our southern relatives.

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Though Chris and Donna are now very successful and recently purchased a beautiful home in Norman, Okla., they did it the hard way to get it, sharing that adventure with me.

Chris grew up in an isolated Oklahoma community, Deer Creek where they only spoke Cheyenne. As many of us do, he first went about life as a self-styled tough guy, winding up as a street person in the city. “I got lost for a little while,” he explained.

Donna, Italian by birth, has many connections with the Mohawk, New York where she spent much time and was adopted or “accepted” by them. She also has Montana connections, once a volunteer for Red Feather straw bale house constructors, then winding up in Oklahoma where meeting Chris was “meant to be."

In trouble, Moe’eh prayed to Mahoe’o to get back on the right path which took time. “Maheo’o doesn’t do things overnight,” he said. “We have to work at it too. Do our part.”

Yet, now he has gained a Master’s Degree, holding a responsible position with a health organization, University of Oklahoma where Donna also is an instructor, wonderful role models for our Tstistas/Suhtai people. They dedicate their lives to our young ones and family, delighted to be Grandpa and Grandpa to many young Cheyenne, nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

Next summer, we hope to welcome Chris and Donna as our special guests at the 140th anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Many will recognize these southern relatives who remind us that we are “all-related.” At one time, the Tstsisas and Suhtai were one people.

As Chris says, “We still are – from the smallest to the tallest. We must believe in each other and see the goodness in each one,” he said.

Well said, my friend. Well lived. Neashe. (You know what that means).

(Clara Caufield can be reached at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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