Historic First: Northern Cheyenne Tribe Elects All Women

Once the newly elected Tribal leaders are sworn in, all but three will be female. The Northern Cheyenne Tribe counts 11,266 enrolled Tribal members with about 5,012 residing on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in southeastern Montana.

The Northern Cheyenne Tribal Presidency, Vice-Presidency and all five open Tribal Council seats were filled by women Tuesday. 

When the victorious candidates are sworn in to the 10-person council, a record high of seven members will be women.

Donna Marie Fisher defeated Gene Small in the race for Tribal President by 283 votes, garnering a total of 825 votes to Small’s 542. Serena Brady Wetherelt beat out Sheldon King in the race for Tribal Vice President with 819 votes to King’s 548. 

Melissa Rae Fisher, Norma Gourneau, Silver Little Eagle, Gwen Talawyma and Debra Waters Charette won the five open seats on the Tribal Council.

Outgoing Northern Cheyenne Tribal President Rynalea Whiteman Peña transitions to serve District 41 in the Montana House of Representatives as a Democrat. She won an uncontested race Tuesday.

Gwen Talawyma, who will be the sole representative for Birney District, said she is looking forward to “working alongside all of the other women.” 

Gwen Talawyma (left) will be the sole representative of the Birney District on the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council. Rynalea Whiteman Pena, the outgoing President of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, will serve District 41 in the Montana House of Representatives.

The leaders take their posts amid a challenging time, when COVID-19 cases are spiking across the country and in the State of Montana again. While cases on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in southeastern Montana, home to approximately 5,000 Cheyenne people, have dropped to less than 20 as of yesterday, a total of 723 people have contracted the virus, including 33 fatal cases. (View the live tracker at cheyennenation.com.) One of those 33 lives lost was the mother of Talawyma, reported the Billings Gazette

The Northern Cheyenne Tribal economy is supported by Tribal government, farming/ranching, and the private sector. The Tribe is the largest employer on the 440,000-acre reservation.

The Tribe’s economic arm, the Northern Cheyenne Development Corporation, is overseen by a board, not the Tribal Council. The Northern Cheyenne Development Corporation operates the Cheyenne Depot gas station and convenience store, as well as Cheyenne Avenue Laundry, all in Lame Deer, the Tribe’s headquarters. 

Tribal members celebrated the all-female win on social media.