Blackfoot

"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 occured, 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.

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.

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Written by Beth Epley and Sara Wenner