Blackfoot Indian History

topic posted Wed, August 15, 2007 - 9:55 AM by  White Wolf
Lords of the Great Plains"

Location: The Blackfoot Confederacy consists of four different tribes, the Pikuni/Peigan, North Peigan Pikuni, Blood/Kainai, and Blackfoot/Siksika. Members of the Blackfoot Confederation presently live in Montana, the United States and Alberta, Canada. When the Canadian government/British Crown sought to enter into a treaty with the Niitsitapi (the Real People), they made initial contact with the Siksika who lived on the north and northeastern frontiers of Niitsitapiskaku. They made the wrong assumption that all Niitsitapi were Blackfoot. The Niitsitapi are Ahpikuni (Peigan), Southern Ahpikuni (Montana Blackfeet), Ahkainah (Bloods) and Siksika (Blackfoot).

Language: The language of the Niitsitapi is Niitsipussin (the Real Language). Some differences in phraseology occurs among the Niitsitapi but essentially, the language is the same.

History: The Blackfoot migrated to their present territory from the northern Great Lakes Region. They were nomadic buffalo hunters. The Blackfoot were first introduced to horses in 1730 when the Shoshoni attacked them on horseback. After this, they obtained their own horses through trade with the Flathead, Kutenai and Nez Perce. They also traded buffalo hides, horses, and guns with settlers as far away as the east coast. However, by the winter of 1884, the buffalo were nearly extinct and many Blackfoot starved. They were forced to depend upon the Indian Agency for food.

The word "tribe" connotates a lack of cohesive political, cultural and social structure which definitely does not apply to the Niitsitapi. In fact, the cohesive structure was the very reason that the Niitsitapi achieved cultural, political and military predominance making them "the Lords of the Great Plains." They were a Nation of people united by a common language, culture and religion living in a country with borders recognized by other First Nations. When the Canadian federal government entered into negotiations with Crowfoot, the Siksika political leader, he had to consult the other Niitsitapi leaders as he was being asked by the government to negotiate matters affecting all Niistitapi. As leader of the Siksika and not the entire Niitsitapi, he couldn't do so without the consent of the other leaders.

In 1870, one of the worse slaughters of Indians by American troops occurred, known as the Marias Massacre. On the morning of Jan. 23, 200 Peigans were killed, most of them women, children, and elderly. The Peigans were a friendly tribe, not the hostile camp that the troops were supposed to attack. However, the commander had permission to use his judgment and attack the Peigans and punish them for things they may be guilty of in the past or future. After the massacre, the troops left to find their real target, but it was too late as the hostile tribe had moved.

Daily Life: The Blackfoot were a nomadic people who followed the buffalo. It's difficult to lead a nomadic lifestyle when there is no place to go. The Niitsitapi were hemmed in by other First Nations. In addition, the different Niitsitapi had claim to areas within Niitsitapiskaku, for instance, the Siksika couldn't infringe on Ahkainah territories as the Ahkainah lived there. Their territory once covered an areas from Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta to the Yellowstone River, and from the Rocky Mountains to the present day North Dakota border.

The most important event of the year was the Sundance Festival, or the Medicine Lodge Ceremony, which was celebrated with other Plains Indians tribes. An important religious area for the Blackfoot is the Badger-two Medicine area. This area was lost in 1895 to the U.S. Government in a treaty which was poorly translated to the Blackfoot.

The Blackfoot were fiercely independent and very successful warriors whose territory stretched from the North Saskatchewan River along what is now Edmonton, Alberta in Canada, to the Yellowstone River of Montana, and from the Rocky Mountains and along the Saskatchewan river past Regina.

The basic social unit of the Blackfoot, above the family, was the band, varying from about 10 to 30 lodges, about 80 to 240 people. This size of group was large enough to defend against attack and to undertake small communal hunts, but was also small enough for flexibility. Each band consisted of a respected leader, possibly his brothers and parents, and others who need not be related. Since the band was defined by place of residence, rather than by kinship, a person was free to leave one band and join another, which tended to ameliorate leadership disputes. As well, should a band fall upon hard times, its members could split-up and join other bands. In practice, bands were constantly forming and breaking-up. The system maximized flexibility and was an ideal organization for a hunting people on the Northwestern Plains.

During the summer the people assembled for tribal gatherings. In these large assemblies, warrior societies played an important role. Membership into these societies was based on brave acts and deeds.

Blackfoot people were nomadic, following the buffalo herds. Survival required their being in the proper place at the proper time. For almost half the year in the long northern winter, the Blackfoot people lived in their winter camps along a wooded river valley perhaps a day's march apart, not moving camp unless food for the people and horses or firewood became depleted. Where there was adequate wood and game resources, some bands might camp together. During this part of the year, buffalo wintered in wooded areas where they were partially sheltered from storms and snow, which hampered their movements, making them easier prey. In spring the buffalo moved out onto the grasslands to forage on new spring growth. The Blackfoot did not follow immediately, for fear of late blizzards, but eventually resources such as dried food or game became depleted, and the bands would split up and begin to hunt the buffalo.

In mid-summer, when the Saskatoon berries ripened, the people regrouped for their major tribal ceremony, the Sun Dance. This was the only time of year when the entire tribe would assemble, and served the social purpose of reinforcing the bonds between the various groups, and reidentifying the individuals with the tribe. Communal buffalo hunts provided food and offerings of the bulls' tongues (a delicacy) for the ceremonies. After the Sun Dance, the people again separated to follow the buffalo.

In the fall, the people would gradually shift to their wintering areas and prepare the buffalo jumps and pounds. Several groups of people might join together at particularly good sites, such as Head-Smashed- In Buffalo Jump. As the buffalo were naturally driven into the area by the gradual late summer drying off of the open grasslands, the Blackfoot would carry out great communal buffalo kills, and prepare dry meat and pemmican to last them through winter, and other times when hunting was poor. At the end of the fall, the Blackfoot would move to their winter camps.

The Blackfoot maintained this traditional way of life based on hunting bison, until the near extinction of the bison by 1881 forced them to adapt their ways of life in response to the effects of the European settlers and their descendants. In the United States, they were restricted to land assigned in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 and were later given a distinct reservation in the Sweetgrass Hills Treaty of 1887. In 1877, the Canadian Blackfoot signed Treaty 7, and settled on reserves in southern Alberta. This began a period of great struggle and economic hardship, as the Blackfoot had to try to adapt to a completely new way of life, as well as suffer exposure to many diseases their people had not previously encountered. Eventually, they established a viable economy based on farming, ranching, and light industry, and their population has increased to about 16,000 in Canada and 15,000 in the U.S. Today. With their new economic stability, the Blackfoot have been free to adapt their culture and traditions to their new circumstances, renewing their connection to their ancient roots.

Best Known Feature: Head-Smashed- In is a hill site in southwestern Alberta. The Blackfoot used it for hundreds of years. It is known as a very spiritual place to the tribe. It has been around for approximately 7,000 years.
posted by:
White Wolf
  • Re: Blackfoot Indian History

    Wed, August 15, 2007 - 11:21 AM
    I think they prefer the name Blackfeet.
    • Re: Blackfoot Indian History

      Wed, August 15, 2007 - 6:39 PM
      I heard once that they got that name because they were caught in a prairie fire. Is there any truth to it?
      • Unsu...

        Re: Blackfoot Indian History

        Wed, August 15, 2007 - 9:32 PM
        The name Blackfoot is believed to have been derived from the discoloration of moccasins from ashes.

        Siksika ('black foot', from siksinam 'black', ka the root of oqkatsh, 'foot'. The origin of the name is disputed, but it is commonly believed to have reference to the discoloring of their moccasins by the ashes of the prairie fires; it may possibly have reference to black-painted moccasins such as were worn by the Pawnee, Sihasapa, and other tribes).
        • Re: Blackfoot Indian History

          Thu, August 16, 2007 - 5:13 AM
          I stand corrected about the preference. Yes, nearly every designated name for the tribes was either a name from a neighboring tribe or from an enemy tribe. All tribes had their own designation as the original people.
    • Unsu...

      Re: Blackfoot Indian History

      Wed, August 15, 2007 - 9:29 PM
      "Blackfeet," is a misnomer given to them by white authorities; the word is not plural in the Blackfoot language, and some Blackfoot people in Montana resist this label.

      "Blackfoot" is the English translation of the word Siksika, which means "black foot." It refers to the dark colored moccasins the people wear. Some Blackfoot people are annoyed by the plural "Blackfeet," which is obviously an anglicization.

      "Blackfoot" is more commonly used in Canada, and "Blackfeet" is more commonly used in the United States.
      • Re: Blackfoot Indian History

        Thu, August 16, 2007 - 5:31 AM
        Thank you all. Now this is the kinds of discussions I always hope for. It is in this way we kind find the truth and learn about the various cultures. The term Native American is used as a blanket term to be all inclusive, yet each tribe and even at the clan level there are differences. It is a lesson that we can take in trying to bring the colors together. We can come together as one people and still respect the differences in culture. Cherokee is not Paiute, Fox is not Seminole. White is not black. Red is not Yellow. If we can move beyond the differences separating us and instead look at the gifts each brings, we can move to bring the colors closer together to bring about the changes in this world.
        • Unsu...

          Re: Blackfoot Indian History

          Thu, August 16, 2007 - 6:51 AM
          Yeah, my Brother Richard is Kanai (Blackfoot) from Calgary. He's told me that they don't care for the term Blackfeet either...

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