Cheyenne - Orientation

Identification. The name "Cheyenne" derives from the Dakota word sha-hi'ye-la, meaning "red talkers" or "people of an alien speech." The Cheyenne refer to themselves as "Tsetsehese-staestse" (People), although today the Northern Cheyenne also are known as the "Notame-ohmeseheetse" (Northern-eaters) and the Southern Cheyenne are called "Heevaha-tane" (Rope-people).

Location. Throughout the late-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries, the Cheyenne occupied a region that extended from the Yellowstone River, Montana, to the upper Arkansas River in present-day Colorado and Kansas. In all, their territory extended over 500,000 square miles, covering nearly eight states. The high plains is characterized by shortgrass vegetation, occasionally interrupted by riparian forests and shrubs along the more perennial waterways. Evergreen stands predominate at higher elevations. The climate is one of hot summers and harsh, cold winters, with an average annual precipitation of ten to fourteen inches. Although the Region was not conducive to horticulture, it did support a large bison population.

Demography. At contact (c. 1780) population estimates indicate that there were about 3,500 Cheyenne. Despite four known major epidemics and a number of massacres inflicted by the U.S. military forces, the 1888 Cheyenne reservation population was 3,497. Of that number, 2,096 were Southern Cheyenne living in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) and 1,401 were Northern Cheyenne residing on the Tongue River Reservation, Montana, and the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota. In 1989, the Northern Cheyenne numbered 5,716. An exact Southern Cheyenne population figure is more difficult to obtain. Currently 9,525 Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho are enrolled at Concho Agency; at least 50 percent identify themselves as Southern Cheyenne.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Cheyenne language is one of five main Algonkian languages spoken on the Great Plains. In the postcontact period, there were at least two major Cheyenne dialects, Tse-tsehese-staestse and So'taa'e, the latter spoken by a tribe incorporated into the Cheyenne. Today only Tse-tsehese-staeste is spoken, but So'taa'e words have been adopted into the language.

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