Native Sun News Today: Northern Cheyenne life span falling short

Eugene Littlecoyote is the author of a mortality report on the Northern Cheyenne tribal population. Photo by Clara Caufield

Life span on Northern Cheyenne is 23 years less than average American life span
By Clara Caufield
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

LAME DEER, Mont. –– In mid-January, the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Board of Health (NCTHB) in its monthly magazine A Cheyenne Way printed a mortality report for enrolled Northern Cheyenne tribal members from the period of January 2015 to June 2106, an eighteen-month period. According to the report, during that time period there were 102 recorded deaths, 5.6 per month for the Tribe of 11,200 members, about 5,000 of which reside on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in southeastern Montana.

The report was prepared by Eugene Littlecoyote when he was the Public Affairs Coordinator for NCTHB, now Acting Administrator for the entire tribal health program. The statistics were provided by the Tribal Services Department which maintains data for enrolled tribal members, thus the report does not include other deaths of non-enrolled community members, still born births or children that didn’t have time to be enrolled.

“Otherwise, the statistics would be even more appalling,” Littlecoyote said.

Fifty-three (53) were male and forty-nine (49) female. The causes of death were natural causes: 77; accidental deaths: 11; homicides: 2; Suicides: 1; Pending investigation: 4; No Death Certificate: 6 with 1 unaccounted. The oldest age of death was 91, the youngest was 5 and the average age of death was 55.5.

The average American life expectancy is 78 while Northern Cheyenne’s is potentially 55.

“We live 23 years less, on average than other people in the country. Northern Cheyenne people should be alarmed -- but equally important we and our tribal leaders should be informed of this critical information because most of the early 'natural causes' of death are disease related. Understand that American society and its medical industry generally classify any death not involving external things like accidents, killings, or suicide as a natural cause of death. This means heart attacks, cancer, and organ failure from diabetes or cirrhosis are all considered natural," Littlecoyote explained.

Tony Prairiebear, tribal member and follower of traditional Cheyenne ways denounced the notion of many natural causes of death afflicting people of such young age.

“They’re not natural!" Prairiebear said. "They are from preventable diseases! Now we must turn our attention to identifying the diseases affecting us the most, what their causes might be, and how to better prevent them – so that we may live fuller lives."

Read the rest of the story on the Native Sun News Today website: Life span on Northern Cheyenne is 23 years less than average American life span

(Clara Caufield can be reached at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

Join the Conversation