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The Blackfoot Indians of the
United States and Canada

The Blackfoot Indians were originally composed of three groups, the Northern Blackfoot or Siksikas, the Kainah or Blood, and the Piegan.  They spoke a language that originated in the Algonquian family.  The term Blackfoot was used to describe them because of the ash covered moccasins they wore.  Before life on the reservation, the Blackfoot stretched as far north as the Saskatchewan River in Canada south to the Missouri River in Montana.

Originally nomadic hunter-gatherers, the Blackfoot relied heavily on the migrating herds of Buffalo and other large mammals that roamed the plains.  Living in mobile tipis they followed the herds movements and foraged on a variety of vegetable foods.  Smaller game caught in snares also proved useful as substitutes for the buffalo.

The Blackfoot collectively had a strong devotion to their warrior societies and their spirit world.  As in the Piegan, warrior society was composed of different levels based on age and experience.  You were in one of the following society as a Piegan warrior: the Doves, Flies, Braves, All Brave Dogs, Tails, Ravens bearers, Dogs, Kit-foxes, Catchers,  and Bulls.  Although groups had their own individual identities, collectively they were known as "All Comrades".  These different levels represented different tasks performed by the individuals in the tribe.  Some were in charge of camp activities, others kept guard against invasions from enemy tribes, while still others were in charge of the hunting exhibitions.  The warrior classes also performed different roles in the Sun Dance Ritual which was performed every summer.  Headdresses were important pieces in the Blackfoot spiritual activities.  Although Hollywood portrays every Indian chief in a full feather headdress, only a very few were ever privileged with the esteemed honor.  Most wore headdresses made of winter skins of weasels or white eagle feathers with sharp black tips.  Wearing such a feather in your hair was a sign of bravery.

Another spiritual factor surrounding the Blackfoot was the use of medicine bundles.  Originally these medicine bundles had to be earned at adolescents.  Young warriors would ventured out into the waste land and vast from food and drink until they heard or saw a guardian spirit.  Many failed to see visions, but those that did were looked upon with high esteem.  The most important bundles were those of the Sun Dance Bundles.  To earn a Sun Dance Bundle, warriors had to complete a variety of physical and mental tests, that were often times extremely dangerous and painful.  Many times they would dance for three to four days abstaining from food or drink.  After this they would endure a variety of skewers being driven through their skin.  Some went has far as to hang from the skewers that were connected to the ceiling of the lodge.  This self-inflicted pain was seen to bring prosperity and harmony to themselves and their village.

Women's roles were also very important in Blackfoot society.  The women were the ones that prepared all the skins that had been taken in the hunts.  This was a long and tiring process, often taking two to three days to complete one hide.  Senior rank among the women were judged on their ability to prepare and maintain skins.  The women also set up and maintained the tipis that provided the lodging for the rest of the village.  This first hand involvement gave each individual women complete ownership over the tipi in which her family resided.  In addition to the preparations of meals and the care of tipis, women were taught how to make weapons, shields, tools, drums, and pipes.  Many of the weapons they made were used by the men in the buffalo stampedes.

Map

The light yellow shows the territory of the Blackfoot before the white settlers.  It also shows the territory of other Indian tribes.

One of the few examples of a chief who was considered honored enough to wear a full feathered headdress.
The Piegan

War Chief

Sacred head piece worn by a medicine man or high ranking chief in the Sun Dance Festival in the summer.
The Piegan

Sacred Head Dress

One of the famous cliffs used by the Blackfoot Indians to run buffalo over.  Many artifacts have been discovered below this site.

Cliffs

Bibliography:

  1. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Official Site.  http://www.head-smashed-in.com

  2. Martin, Marlene 1996 "Society-Blackfoot"  http://lucy.ukc.ac.uk/EthnoAtlas/Hmar/Cult_dir/Culture.7833

  3. http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~awk/blackfoot.htm

  4. http://www.curtis-collection.com/tribe%20data/piegan.html

Written by Joseph Sheridan

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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 ]
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