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Calgary & Southern Alberta

Identifying Southern Alberta's Indigenous People
in Pre-Contact Times 

Map of Southern Alberta First Nations
The Applied History Research Group

Historically, the Peigan, Kainaiwa (Blood) and Siksika of the Blackfoot Confederacy dominated the southern portion of Alberta. When the earliest British traders arrived, these three groups monopolised an area bounded by the Rocky Mountains in the West, the North Saskatchewan and Missouri Rivers to the north and south, and the present day Saskatchewan-Alberta border to the East. European records dating to 1815 indicate that the Peigan controlled all hunting grounds within one hundred miles of the mountains. The Siksika and Kainaiwa (Blood) held sway further north, and the Atsina (Gros Ventre), to the east. By mid-century, however, Plains Cree and Assiniboine people from territories to the east had forced the Blackfeet to retreat southward. The northern portion of Peigan country gradually contracted to the Bow Valley, while the southern borders expanded into Montana.

Archaeological and other evidence suggests that the Siksika, Peigan, and Kainaiwa (Blood) people were present in southern Alberta and the adjacent American plains for many centuries prior to the arrival of Europeans. It is difficult, however, to connect the archaeological remains left in particular Pre-Contact settlements and other sites with specific historically-known tribal groups. Several problems make identification almost impossible.

First, in late Pre-Contact times, different tribal groups made stylistically distinctive pottery and weapon tips. Unfortunately, European metal was traded into the area long before Europeans themselves arrived to record in writing the identities of the people they met in their travels. By the time the newcomers appeared on the scene, most Aboriginal peoples had abandoned pottery and stone tools in favor of generic trade pots and nondescript metal arrow tips.

Secondly, as Europeans advanced across the continent, indigenous people living in the East were pushed progressively westward. The period just before Europeans arrived in what is now Alberta was thus marked by pronounced shifts in the Aboriginal territories. In Pre-Contact times, the Stoney, an Assiniboine people, resided far to the east. Linguistic evidence suggests that the Tsuu T'ina (Sarcee), Athapaskan-speakers, formerly lived further to the north than they did at the time of Contact. Kutenai people, whose descendants live today in British Columbia, seem to have occupied parts of the southern Alberta foothills until just before Europeans arrived, at which time they were driven westward by the Blackfoot.

Finally, the few Europeans who visited southern Alberta during the first years of Contact left vague and sometimes conflicting descriptions of the people they met. Henday's "Archithinue" people were most likely Blackfoot, but may have been Atsina (Gros Ventre). To cite a second example of such ambiguity, early European accounts and Native oral history agree that a people known as the Snakes lived in the region in the 1600s, but were subsequently driven out by neighboring tribes. Who these Snake people were is a continuing matter of debate.

"May your road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine be warm upon your face.
May the rain fall soft on all that you plant.
And until we meet again.
May your God cradle you,
in the palm of his hands."

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[ Blackfoot History Introduction ]
[ Calgary & Southern Alberta | History of the Blackfoot | Blackfoot History 2 ]
[ History of the Horse and the Chase | The Blackfoot People | The Pikuni ]
[ Blackfoot Traditions | The Blackfoot Indians of the United States and Canada ]
[ The Siksika Nation Coat-Of-Arms | Blackfoot Bibliography ]

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