Native Sun News Today: Northern Cheyenne Tribe gathers in prayer

Tony Prairiebear, Prayer Day organizer, addresses the gathering on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana. Photo by Clara Caufield

Northern Cheyenne gather for Day of Traditional Prayer
‘Seeking solutions to high death rate on the reservation’
By Clara Caufield
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

LAME DEER, Mont. –– “This is a call for help,” said President L. Jace Killsback at the “Day of Traditional Prayer” held Friday, January 27, 2017 at the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Chambers. “There is no wrong way to pray and our close-knit community, currently struggling with so much grief and pain, needs prayer.”

The event was held in response to an alarmingly high death rate among the Northern Cheyenne in the past few years. As reported in the last issue of Native Sun News Today, the small Tribe has experienced near 150 deaths in the past two years, many at very young ages, bringing life expectancy for the tribal members on the reservation down to 55.5 years.

The prayer event and spiritual gathering titled “Celebrating the Cheyenne Way of Life” included both Cheyenne ceremonial people and representatives from the reservation’s Christian ministerial association. It was facilitated by the Tribal Administration (President Jace Killsback and Vice-President Conrad Fisher) but first suggested and organized by a loose-knit group of community members under the leadership of Tony Prairiebear, traditionalist and Cheyenne language speaker.

“We have to help ourselves out of this situation. The government alone cannot solve this problem, everyone needs to get involved and utilize our traditional tools for healing and healthier lifestyles. In essence, we need to love one another,” Prairiebear emphasized.

The initial remarks, prayer and ritual smudging of participants were conducted by Don Shoulderblade, former Sacred Hat Keeper for many years and also tribal council member. He shared a story about a miracle healing due to the Sacred Hat, a blessed covenant that has been with the Northern Cheyenne people for many centuries, still at the heart of Cheyenne spirituality. Allen Joe Blackwolf, current Keeper was present for much of the discussion, but left early in order to return to the Sacred Hat to pray for all of the people. Several participants later joined him there where additional prayers were offered.

Speaking to a solemn stillness in the tribal chambers, Shoulderblade advised, “Prayer is powerful. If we all pray together and take care of the Sacred Hat, Maheo’o (the Creator) will take pity on us.”

“I am a praying man, but no one person can do this alone,” Killsback told the audience of about a hundred tribal members, including Tribal Council member, Ernest Littlemouth from Birney, also a practitioner of traditional ways.

“We ask for prayer to help us come out of conflict and grief. This government needs people’s prayers. Traditionally our government was based on ceremony and spirituality until the I.R.A. introduced the notion of separation between religion and the state,” the President said. “Thoughts and words have power, including the negative. But, we can get back on the right direction with prayer.”

Read the rest of the story on the Native Sun News Today website: Northern Cheyenne gather for Day of Traditional Prayer

(Clara Caufield can be reached at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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