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The Blackfoot Civilization
A Book Report by Morning Star

Page 1

Blackfoot or Blackfeet

The book asks the question in this first chapter of:  "Which term is the most correct when referring to the tribe?  Blackfoot or Blackfeet?"  To explain the proper term is to give the Blackfoot their proper name....Blackfoot.  And this question is asked by the youth of the tribe as well as other people who visit the tribal gatherings each year.  The answer is more simple then one would expect, it's Blackfoot, NOT Blackfeet.  I too was under the impression that they were call Blackfeet, until Long Standing Bear Chief explained to me one time before reading his book.  It was the US Governments idea to call them this and not theirs.  They adopted the Blackfeet name as part of they tribal constitution adopted in 1935 and ratified by the Federal Government, which then required their people to be called the Blackfeet Tribe for the soul reason that there is more than one person in the tribe.  The actual name of the Tribe is Blackfoot and if you ask me, should still be such.

Reservations

An Indian reservation today is the home land of their people and the last remnant of a much larger area.  Lets look at the word itself, "Reservation", it's meaning is that the land was reserved.  Therefore, the reservation is reserved land for the Blackfoot people that they kept for their selves to live on.  Through treaties or having it taken away, they were cheated out of millions of areas.  It must be kept in mind that the Blackfoot Indian Reservation represent a home land to them and gives them a place to call their own.  Which in turn, gives them a sense of belonging I would say, along with a place to teach their children the traditions of the Tribe without outsiders objecting.  After all, it's important that their youth learn and know their own heritage, just as it is important to any culture.

In Montana, there are seven different Indian Tribes all totaled, and each have they own reservation as their home land.  These Tribal Reservations are:  the Blackfoot Indian Reservation near Glacier National Park; the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation near Havre; Fort Belknap Indian Reservation near Harlem; Fort Peck Indian Reservation near Poplar; Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation and Crow Indian Reservation near Billings; and, Flathead Indian Reservation near Missoula.

In all consideration, one must understand the Blackfoot live on the Blackfoot Reservation; the Chippewa and Cree on the Rocky Boy Reservation; the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre on the Fort Belknap Reservation; the Sioux and Assiniboine share Fort Peck Reservation; Northern Cheyennes on the Cheyenne Reservation; the Crow on the Crow Reservation; and the Salish and Kootenai on the Flathead Reservation.  The Salish are often referred to as the Flathead, which is what the US Government calls them, hence the name Flathead Reservation.

Give Away Celebrations

A long time ago, it was considered a sacred event for the people to hold tribal celebrations and public events often featuring a Give Away.  The person  who does the Give Away may do this with the help of his family and relatives.  Held sometimes in the name of the deceased relative or to honor a person who is going through a Sundance ceremony as a participant, the Give Away is held when a prayer or vow has been granted.  To explain, it's somebody that has made a vow two years before and that vow has been fulfilled by that person and family.  Therefore they honor that event and that person with a Give Away.

The wasitchu once tried to stop these types of events by making it against the law for the Blackfoot to use this practice at anytime.  They did this because they couldn't understand the reasoning behind the Give Away.  To the wasitchu, you are to save, hoard material goods and so forth; NOT give them away.  So, in an effort to destroy the culture, on February 14, 1923 Charles Burke, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, issued a directive from his office as representative of official US Government policy.  (A copy of the document is in the book, however, it was to long to publish on these pages.)

In short, the Give Away is a way of passing on valuable things in the culture and is an honor.  It is their way of saying, "My relative believed in this ceremony.  In giving you this gift we hope that these traditions or this ceremony will be continued through you."  It is, therefore, a way to keep traditions and beliefs alive.

Making of Relatives

The making of relatives is an adoption of non-Indian peoples into the tribe as an honor.  This is an honor by all rights, for it tells a person that they are respected and loved by the family adopting them.  As an adopted relative, all the duties and responsibilities of a relative are expected of the adopted person.  But in respect, the adopted person isn't always non-Indian; they can also be of the tribe and no family left and are alone.  This part of the book I found to be highly interesting, for it shows the true generosity of the Blackfoot people that I see in my husband on a daily bases.  But the Federal Government, like with most things they didn't understand, stopped this as well.

The Blackfoot do not heed this law; as they believe that the Federal Government doesn't have the right to tell them whom they can or cannot count as a relative.  Therefore, the making of relatives goes on among all the tribes.  I think this is a beautiful tradition of the Blackfoot People, and also should never be allowed to die.  It's been my experience through my studies that all people are related through a greater power than ourselves; and, that we as a peoples should do right by one another.  This is also the belief of the Blackfoot People.

Drums/Songs/Chants

The drums were in the old days as they are now, looked upon a musical instruments.  They are use to make a percussion sound to accompany songs.  The drum is believed to be the heartbeat of the Creator.  Its significance is one instrument used in every social and ceremonial occasion for making music.  They're made from varies materials such as; buffalo hide, elk hide and horse hide just to mention a few.

Drumming and singing is soothing to the person who is ill because he/she knows that the songs and drumming are something of beauty to the Creator.  They ask the Creator through music and song as a prayer to bless them and make them well.  They are also use when asking the Creator's help for different situations and reasons.

There are songs and chants as numerous as the stars, and are social songs.  Though some songs are sacred to only one person and given to that individual during a time of fasting and vision seeking.  These sacred songs are usually passed down from grandfather to son to grandchild, and are songs only that person can sing.

In short, not so different from our own culture and beliefs, there are songs for every event, both social and non-social.  Each song is sang from memory and are meant as a beauty and joyful sound of life to the Creator.  Each song has its own purpose and meaning.  And seldom is there any song alike, if ever, which is very contrary to the wasitchu's way of thinking towards this tradition.

Painted Lodges (Tipis)

The word tipi is a Sioux word for lodge.  The painted lodge is a thing of beauty and a masterpiece of design and engineering.  It's also a home full of sacred meaning.  The Blackfoot word for the lodge is "Nii-To-Yis" meaning "the only people's home."  Bear Chief wrote a beautiful poem about the Nii-To-Yis in the book,  however, I will not publish that poem here.  But is explains the meaning and purpose of the lodges as unique and representing a man's power; the design of each being sacred and original; the gaining of spiritual knowledge and guidance.  These are only a few of the words used in his poem to describe the "Painted Lodges" and I found myself simply amazed.  I have no way of knowing how it feels in this respect to be Indian, but I can tell you this, it must be wonderful.  For the pride and sense of knowing in that poem was by all means, "A tribute to something one believes in to the fullest."

An example of the painted lodge is below:

Painted Lodge

Pow Wows/Other Celebrations

The word Pow Wow is an Algonquin word borrowed from the tribes farther east, around the Massachusetts area.  It might be a Mohawk Indian word, but it's not a Pains Indian word.       Celebrations, a long time ago, was more spiritual than today.  The gathering were ceremonies that involved name-giving, and were held to honor the dead, the living, to pray for good times and that sort of thing.  They are more of a social thing today.

These gathering are like St. Patrick's day is to the whites, in regards to holidays and such.  And they always begin with a spiritual offering.  In the spiritual offing, such things as the pipe were use, food was blessed, children were blessed, long life was honored.  There was a memorial feast for deceased ancestors.  Today, these customs persist but you will not hear about a memorial feast being publicly announced in most cases.  Instead, these feasts are held by families or by communities.

A less traditions sense, Pow Wow is a term that denotes that a group of Indian people is holding a public event to which all peoples are welcome.  Art, food, music tapes, and other gift items are usually sold. Plus, there are all kinds of dances.  How dancers are dressed determines if it is a traditional dance or a modern dance.  One example of is a very popular dance called the Grass Dance.  People refer to this dance as a War Dance, but the real War Dance is nothing like it.  The term War Dance actually plays into the stereotyping of Indians.  To stereotype any people in this manner, takes away the true spiritual importance of their ceremonies and what they actually mean.

At these social gatherings are beautiful handmade costumes.  As like in the past, they are mostly made by the dancers themselves, and are brightly colored.  The wearer uses things such as bells, feathers, and blows on flutes to keep time with the music played.  Traditionally, all of these items were from natural resources, such as animal dew claws, and were used for the rustling sound.  Others things such as gourd filled with small stones created a rattling sound.  The dancers themselves dress in imitation of the animals and birds that are their spiritual guides, or the dancers attempt to bring the spiritual qualities of the animal or bird into their dance.

Many decorated with eagle feathers.  Only Indians may posses eagle feathers, because it is a recognized fact that they use them in ceremonial dances and such.  Eagle feathers have been a way to decorate costumes for centuries, and these are rights for the Native Americans.  Since these things are tied with their spirituality, social life and culture, eagle feathers are something the white man cannot take away from them.  Saying that Indians cannot possess eagle feathers is like saying the whit man cannot won a Bible.

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