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Cheyenne leader calls for reawakening

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  • Cheyenne leader calls for reawakening

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    September 14, 2005

    Last modified September 14, 2005 - 1:01 am

    Cheyenne leader calls for reawakening
    Of The Gazette Staff

    LAME DEER - The president of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe on Tuesday urged its people to shake off self-defeating notions of despair and embrace an aggressive path toward independence, prosperity and pride.

    In a two-part speech that opened an economic development summit, Eugene Little Coyote laid out a detailed agenda that included financial goals, such as building a casino and resort, and less tangible ones, including a shift in attitudes among tribal members.

    He called for the Northern Cheyenne to "return to greatness."

    "We're going to reinvent ourselves," he told the crowd of about 500 people. "We're going to re-emerge as dignified Cheyennes."

    Little Coyote, elected as president last November, opened his speech with a slide show of images of dilapidated and boarded-up houses, poverty and alcohol abuse. He also pointed out unemployment rates that can reach 90 percent in the winter, hunger, illiteracy and violence.

    All of those factors provoke anger, pain, embarrassment and shame, he said.

    "There's a lot wrong with our reservation and our communities, and we have to face up to that," he said.

    He hoped the speech would jump-start tribal members - including the 400 or so tribal employees required to attend the economic summit - to begin changing the tribe's future.

    It's time, he said, for tribal members to stop depending on the federal government and the tribal government, and instead look for ways to build up the Northern Cheyenne people.

    The tribe will still look after its own, he said, but members need to address "a misguided sense of entitlement."

    One of the most important tasks will be building a sustainable economy on the reservation that helps the tribe cut its reliance on federal programs, Little Coyote said.

    The economy on the Northern Cheyenne reservation has been in a "state of perpetual post-war recovery" for 120 years, he said.

    For too long, the tribe has focused on simply taking in federal money and distributing it through the tribal system. The Northern Cheyenne need to create for-profit businesses that drive a local economy, he said.

    Tribal leaders are taking a serious look at building a casino and resort - and have an investor willing to pay $8 million to build it - but first need cooperation from Gov. Brian Schweitzer and approval from the federal Department of Interior.

    Little Coyote said he'd also like to see a hotel built in Lame Deer, a truck stop possibly in Busby, a "dollar store" and, perhaps much farther down the line, the revival of the now-defunct sawmill in Ashland.

    Tribal leaders are also investigating the possibility of starting a bottled-water plant on the reservation.

    A diversified economy is the key to tribal independence, he said. The tribe shouldn't be complacent when it comes to unemployment, a lack of housing and other symptoms of being poor, he said.

    "We've kind of become comfortable living in this poverty. That's unacceptable," he said.

    Aside from the economy, there are fundamental changes needed among the Northern Cheyenne people, Little Coyote added, ones that renew "the dignified image" of their ancestors.

    That can happen through more constructive criticism instead of negativism, support for new ideas and pride in how Northern Cheyennes represent themselves to the rest of the world, he said.

    The president has also proposed changing the names of several communities on the reservation. Lame Deer and Busby derive their names from another tribe and a former business owner.

    "We're going by a name that doesn't fit us," he said.

    Little Coyote is proposing that each community rename itself, a proposal that could be up for a referendum in the next year or so.

    There will be critics to many of the proposals. But the future of the tribe is better served when everyone contributes constructive ideas and embraces a "sprit of optimism," Little Coyote said.

    Copyright © The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.
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