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A brief Overview of Cheyenne Religious Beliefs

The Cheyenne are one of the Native American tribes that speak the Algonquian language. Located in the Great plains, the Cheyenne people consist of two different tribes. The Sutaio and Tsitsistas are separate, but united as the Cheyenne people. The Cheyenne branched off from other tribes sometime circa 1500 from the area that is now Minnesota. The Cheyenne migrated across the Mississippi River into the Dakotas, as well as Montana.

The Cheyenne clashed with European settlers throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. For the most part, peaceful trade occurred, but Native American and European settlements are well known to have battled one another in small skirmishes. The most well-known battle was the Battle of Little Bighorn. On June 25, 1876, the Northern Cheyenne fought in the battle, along with the Lakota and Sioux tribes, against Colonel George Custer and his 7th Calvary. The U.S. government attempted to capture the Cheyenne, and after several small battles, the Northern Cheyenne Reservation was established in Montana.

The religious beliefs of the Cheyenne are polytheistic; the people worshiped multiple deities. The most important god to the Cheyenne was known as the Wise One Above, and the second an unnamed god that lives inside the earth. The Sun Dance was a central ritual to worship and religious beliefs. The dancers would stare directly into the sun to cause a trance. The dancer was said to have gained power that ensured renewal and balance of the cosmos. The Animal Dance is said to help ensure hunting, much like the beliefs in Sacred Arrows.

The Renewal of the Sacred Arrows was a ceremony performed around a four-day period during the summer solstice. The ceremony elevated what are known as Man Arrows and Bison Arrows to a sacred status. Females were forbidden from participation and told to remain inside the tee-pees. The purpose of the ceremony was to empower the men with strength with for hunting and gaining favor of the gods. The Peyote people, to an extent, have in modern times joined the Cheyenne in these religious beliefs.

The old beliefs of the Cheyenne tell of the universe, known as Hestanov, being split into seven distinct levels. Ma’heo’o was the creator of the universe, and spiritual beings roamed Hestanov as sacred beings. Spirits were intertwined with nature, in the birds, the trees, and the people. Modern world ecological problems are attributed to the end of Hestanov favoring the Cheyenne. Christian missionaries, particularly Catholic and Mennonite, have changed the beliefs of the Cheyenne to include a mixture of Christian and Cheyenne traditions.