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Northern Cheyenne Inaugurates Slate Of Women To Leadership

Donna Fisher, wearing a mask, raises her right hand as she's sworn in at a podium draped with a bison hide.
Kaitlyn Nicholas, YPR
Donna Fisher is sworn into office as Northern Cheyenne's new president.

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe inaugurated all women to leadership positions Tuesday outside the tribal capitol building in Lame Deer, Mont.

Drum group Band of Brothers played an honor song for the Northern Cheyenne’s newly inaugurated leaders.

Desi Rodriguez-Lonebear called this a historic day for the tribe in the ceremony’s opening speech.

"We all come from women. And so now is the time that we honor them as our leaders, across every office. For the first time ever, as the Northern Cheyenne nation, we will have a Cheyenne president, a Cheyenne vice president, and all five Cheyenne tribal districts, they will all be led by woman," Rodriguez-Lonebear said.

New Tribal.jpg
Kaitlyn Nicholas, YPR
Tribal President Donna Fisher, Tribal Vice President Serena Brady Wetherelt, Councilwoman Silver Little Eagle, Councilwoman Gwen Talawyma, Councilwoman Norma Gourneau and Councilwoman Melissa Rae Fisher dance and walk into the inauguration ceremony. 11.17.2020.

Rodriguez-Lonebear, who holds a doctorate in sociology, spoke about the powerful women warriors and matriarchs in Cheyenne’s history. She said electing all women was a sign of hope for the tribe in the midst of, “a time of great turmoil, sickness, fear and grief.”

"There's that proverb that many of us know, and it goes like this, “A nation is not defeated until the hearts of its woman are on the ground. Then it is finished no matter how brave its warriors or how strong their weapons.” And I stand before you today to say that as Cheyenne people, we will never be defeated," Rodriguez-Lonebear said.

The inauguration included prayers, speeches and a smudging ceremony. Each woman was sworn into office while hundreds watched from socially distanced chairs, cars in the parking lot and online.

tribal march 1.jpg
Kaitlyn Nicholas, YPR
Desi Rodriguez-Lonebear delivers welcoming address. Councilwoman Silver Little Eagle, Councilwoman Gwen Talawyma and Councilwoman Norma Gourneau sit on left side of Rodriguez-Lonebear (identified from left to right). President Donna Fisher, Vice President Serena Brady Wetherelt, Councilwoman Melissa Rae Fisher and Chief Judge David Roundstone sit to the right of Rodriguez-Lonebear on Nov. 17 2020.

Now seven women will serve on Northern Cheyenne’s ten seat tribal council.

Donna Fisher was also inaugurated as the tribe’s new president. She replaces Rynalea Whiteman Pena, who was elected to represent District 41 in Montana’s House of Representatives.

President Fisher spoke about the pandemic crisis facing her nation.

"I'd like to acknowledge those who are traveling through the Milky Way and those who have survived. And those who are battling today. Our tribe has suffered so much loss in a short time, and we need to work together to educate our people, provide outreach and protect our most sacred resource: our elders," Fisher said.

President Fisher says she intends to start work immediately.

"Tomorrow, I'm going to start. I'm going to build a pandemic team. Tomorrow," Fisher said.

Fisher says her top priority is preventing the spread of COVID-19, which has hit Northern Cheyenne particularly hard, causing the deaths of 33 tribal members, including Tribal Vice President Winfield Russell, who passed away in late October.

Fisher’s other priorities include addressing the tribe’s ongoing disagreements and tension over how best to police the region and reaching out to remote schools to ensure they’re represented and supported by the tribe.

"We, as women, we will not always be on the same page, but we'll work together to get things done, and this is what the people have voted us in there for," Fisher said.

Kaitlyn Nicholas covers tribal news in Montana.