Blackfeet Tribe of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation of Montana

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The Blackfeet and Blackfoot tribes are really the same tribe. There are three divisions of the Blackfoot Nation. When the US – Canadian border was drawn, those on the Canadian side of the boundary continued to be called by their traditional branch names.

However, those on the US side of the border, which may have belonged to any one of the three original branches, were lumped together as one tribe and renamed the Blackfeet Tribe of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation of Montana. Unfortunately, the US Government mispelled Blackfoot to Blackfeet, which is still a bone of contention for this tribe’s members as of today.

Official Tribal Name: Blackfeet Tribe of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation of Montana

Address: 1 Agency Square, Browning, Montana 59417
Phone: (406) 338-7521
Fax: (406) 338-7530
Email: Send an Email

Official Website: www.blackfeetnation.com/

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:

Niitsítapi (we are…the Original People), referring to the Blackfoot Confederacy as a whole.

Siksika (‘black feet’, 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 also have been a reference to black-painted moccasins worn by the Black Patched Moccasins gens of Blackfoot.

Siksika (black foot) was the term they called themselves to mean all the Blackfoot peoples collectively, but today is the name used by the Northern Blackfoot in Canada.

The Ah-hi’-ta-pe (blood people), commonly called Bloods today, are the same people as the Kainai (many chiefs), and were the Southern Blackfoot,now primarily in Canada.

Pikuni (scabby robes) and Piegan are used interchangeably to mean the Blackfoot people who lived even farther south than the Bloods. Most Pikuni or Piegans are known as the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana today, although there are some Peigans in Canada.

Canadian Peigans have treaty rights to freely cross the US – Canadian border and retain dual citizenship in both countries, while the Piegans on the US side of the border do not.

The border between the US and Canada was called the “medicine line” by the Blackfoot, because for some reason unknown and magical to them, the Canadian Mounties would stop chasing them when they crossed the line heading south with contraband whiskey. Likewise, the Americans would stop the chase when they ran to the north.

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Buy this Proud to be Blackfeet Travel MugThe term “Blood” was used by English speakers to refer to the people of the Kainai First Nation. The term originally derives from the Cree reference to the Kainai as mihkiwi novak, meaning “red people” because of the ochre they spread on their clothes. This was later translated to English as “blood people” or “blood.” They called themselves Aapátohsipikáni. Today, many of this band will self identify as “Bloods.”

According to legend, the name for this First Nation came from a traveler visiting the Kainai wishing to meet with the chief, but everyone he spoke to claimed to have Chief rank. The traveller referred to them as Akainai, which means “many chiefs.” Kainai is a derivative of Akainai, and is the name by which the members of the Kainai First Nation are called by the Canadian government today.

Piegan (US spelling) or Peigan (Canadian spelling) is an English corruption of Pikani, which is itself thought to be a corrupted version of the Cree word Apikuni, meaning “scabby hides”, and this term became commonly used to refer to the Piikani people. Spellings of this term vary depending on whether one is north or south of the Canada / United States border. The Canadian group is known simply as the “Northern Peigans” while their relatives south of the border are the “Southern Piegans”, officially incorporated as the “Blackfeet Tribe of Montana.” They call themselves Aamsskáápi pikani.

The Pikani (also spelled Piikuni and pronounced  pih–kuhn–ee) are the southernmost nation of the Blackfoot, and the most populous. Due to contradictory traditions, it is difficult to know for sure where the term Piikani comes from. However, the word Apikuni which means “scabby hides” seems to make the most sense for the history of the term. “Scabby hides” referred to the poorly dressed robes of the women in this community.

The Northern Peigans or Aapátohsi pikáni are a First Nation, part of the Niitsítapi (Blackfoot Confederacy). Known as Piikáni, “Pekuni” or Aapátohsipikáni (Northern Piikáni/Peigan), they are very closely related to the other members of the Blackfoot Confederacy: Aamsskáápipikani (the Blackfeet of Montana or Southern Piikáni/Peigan), Káínaa or Blood and the Siksiká or Blackfoot.

At the time treaties were signed, the Northern Peigan were situated on the Oldman River, west of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, to the west of the Kainah tribe. The modern reserve (which includes the town of Brocket) is located near Pincher Creek.

The Southern Piegan (pronounced pay-gone) are mostly on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, USA, along with a few Siksika.

There was once a fifth band of Blackfoot, the Inaxix, meaning “Small Robes,” which were the southernmost Blackfoot band. They were struck by a smallpox epidemic in 1866, which killed more than 6,000 Blackfoot. The Inaxix band was nearly wiped out, and later the Crow massacred the remaing few members of that band. They are now extinct.

Common Name: Blackfeet (US) or Blackfoot (Canada)

Meaning of Common Name:

Same as Siksika. Note: Blackfeet is a mispelling by the US Government. The US Blackfeet are actually related to the Blackfoot tribes of Canada, which is the proper spelling. The US Blackfeet were part of the same tribes as their Canadian counterparts, and were only separated and considered a separate tribe when the US – Canadian border was drawn. Those who resided on the US side of the border then became known as the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana.

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Alternate names:

Siksika, Bloods, Kainai, Piegan, Pikuni, The Lords of the Plains, Scabby Robes, Short Robes

Alternate spellings / Mispellings:

Kainah, Kainaa, Peigan

Name in other languages:

Region: Great Plains
There is evidence of an earlier culture, possibly that of the Eastern timber tribes.

State(s) Today: Montana, USA (1 reservation) and Alberta, Canada (3 reserves)

Traditional Territory:

Due to language and cultural patterns, anthropologists believe the Niitsitapi did not originate in the Great Plains of the Midwest North America, but migrated from the upper Northeastern part of the country. They coalesced as a group while living in the forests of what is now the Northeastern United States. They were mostly located around the modern-day border between Canada and the state of Maine.

By 1200, the Niitsitapi were moving in search of more land. They moved west and settled for a while north of the Great Lakes in present-day Canada, but had to compete for resources with existing tribes. They left the Great Lakes area and kept moving west.

The Blackfeet held most of the territory stretching almost from North Saskatchewan river, Canada, to the southern headstreams of the Missouri in Montana, and from about the 105° longitutde to the base of the Rocky mountains. Their lands included what is now known as Glacier National Park.

A century earlier, or about 1790, they were found by Mackenzie occupying the upper and middle South Saskatchewan, with the Atsina on the lower course of the same stream. Both tribes were apparently in slow migration toward the north west (Mackenzie, Vol., lXX-lXXI, 1801). This would have made them the vanguard of the Algonquian movement from the Red River country.

With the exception of a temporary occupancy by invading Cree, this extreme northern region has always, within the historic period, been held by Athapascan tribes.

Confederacy: Algonquian Confederacy, Blackfoot Nation, Blackfoot Confederacy

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Treaties:

The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 (Peace of the Plains Treaty) was signed. Blackfeet legal dealings with the U.S. Government begin with this treaty (in which the Blackfeet did not participate) allotting them a large swath of the northern plains. Though they were not present, Article 5 defined their territory, using the Musselshell, Missouri, and Yellowstone Rivers and the Rocky Mountain Range as markers.

1861 – April 29, 1868 – The 2nd Fort Laramie Treaty

1877 – Treaty No. 7 signed with Blackfoot tribes in Canada.

1888 – Sweet Grass Hills Agreement

Reservations: Blackfeet Indian Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land

The Blackfeet Tribe is one of only 6 tribes that still lives on a portion of their ancestral lands. While there are a few Siksika on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, most members are Southern Piegan or Pikuni.
Land Area:
Tribal Headquarters: Browning, Montana
Time Zone: Mountain Time
B.I.A. Office:

Population Centers:

The largest town and seat of government on the reservation is Browning, Montana(population 3,500, including surrounding areas). Other towns include Heart Butte, Blackfoot, Starr School, Babb, Saint Mary, Kiowa, and East Glacier. Away from our towns, many areas have population densities of less than 1 person per 5 or 10 square miles.

Tribal Flag / Tribal Emblem:

The Southern Blackfeet flag, which is not used extensively, is a medium blue and bears a ceremonial lance or coup stick, having 29 eagle feathers attached on the left of the tribal emblem.

In the center is a ring of 32 white and black eagle feathers surrounding a map of the reservation. On this appears a warbonnet and the name of the tribe in English and in the Algonquin based native tongue of the Blackfeet. All items appearing in the center are white with black edging and black lettering. 

Population at Contact:

Many of the early estimates of Blackfoot population are plainly unreliable. The best appears to be that of Mackenzie, who estimated them about 1790 at 2,250 to 2,500 warriors, or perhaps 9,000 total. One source says there were 30,000 Blackfeet on the Missouri in 1834. In 1780-81, in 1837-38, in 1845, in 1857-58, and in 1869, the Blackfeet suffered great losses from smallpox. The epidemic in 1838 nearly wiped them out.

The first epedemic alone reduced their population by one third. In 1864 they were reduced by measles, and in 1883-84 500 to 600 of those in Montana died of sheer starvation due to the sudden extinction of the buffalo coincident with a reduction of rations provided by the US Government.

The official Indian report for 1858 gave the population as 7,300, but another estimate, quoted by Hayden as having been made “under the most favorable circumstances” about the same time, gives them 2,400 warriors and 6,720 total. In 1909 they were officially reported to number 4,635 for all the Blackfoot Nations, with 795 at Blackfoot agency, Alberta, Canada; 1,174 at Blood agency, Alberta, Canada; 471 at the Piegan agency, Alberta, Canada; and 2,195 at the Blackfeet agency (Piegan), Montana.

Registered Population Today:

With 16,000 enrolled members, the Blackfeet are the largest Indian tribe in Montana and one of the largest tribes in the United States. Many more claim Blackfeet ancestry: In the 2000 census, 85,750 people self identified themselves as having Blackfeet heritage. About 8,500 Blackfeet live on their reservation.

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

Must be 25% Blackfeet for enrollment.
Enrollment(406)338-3533 Fax Number(406)338-5233

  • Misty Hall Ext: 2227
  • Receptionist Ext: 2228

Genealogy Resources:

Blackfeet Surnames List

Government:

Charter: 1934 Indian Reorganization Act
Name of Governing Body: Blackfeet Tribal Business Council (BTBC)
Number of Council members: 9
Dates of Constitutional amendments: 1978
Number of Executive Officers:

Elections:

Every 4 years with staggered terms (changed in recent years from the original 2 years terms to promote political stability) This is a much larger tribe than it was in 1934 with much more complex business to conduct, so another change from the original policies is that BTBC members work full-time and often meet several times a week.

Language Classification: Algic => Algonquian => Plains Algonquian => Blackfoot

Language Dialects: Piegan (Peigan)

Number of fluent Speakers:

There are about 100 fluent Piegan speakers on the Blackfeet Reservation, mainly adults.

Younger speakers prefer to use English as their primary language, although there is an immersion school on the Blackfeet Reservation that is hoping to restore the language to younger speakers in the future.

Blackfeet tribe imerses students in language to reclaim lost culture

Dictionary: The Blackfoot Dictionary of Stems, Roots, and Affixes

Origins:

There are several different accounts of the creation of the Blackfeet people by Napi, also known as Old Man. One is that he married a female dog, and that their progeny were the first people. Others, and the ones most often told, have been given in the Old Man stories to be found under the Legends / Oral stories category.

Bands, Gens, and Clans

The three main divisions of the Blackfoot tribe seem to have been independent of each other, each having its own Sun dance, council, and elective head chief, although the Blackfoot proper appear to have been the original nucleus. Each of the three blackfoot divisions was subdivided into a number of bands, of which Grinnell enumerates 45 in all.
Blackfeet and Blackfoot kinship bands

Related Tribes:

The Northern Piegan, the Kainai Nation, and the Siksika Nation, all located in Alberta, Canada

Traditional Allies:

The Atsina and the Sarsi were in close alliance with the Blackfoot tribes.

Traditional Enemies:

The Blackfeet were constantly at war with all their neighbors except the Atsina and Sarci, who lived under their protection. The Gros Ventre (Atsína) had been allies of the Blackfoot for generations, but a dispute with the Piegans over stolen horses in 1863 turned them into bitter enemies.

The Cree, Assiniboin, Sioux, Crows, Flatheads, and Kutenai were often under attack by the Blackfeet.

While never regularly at war with the United States, their general attitude toward Americans in the early days was one of hostility, while maintaining a doubtful friendship with the Hudson’s Bay Company.

The Niitsitapi were enemies of the Crow, Cheyenne, and Sioux (Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota) on the Great Plains; and the Shoshone, Flathead, Kalispel, Kootenai and Nez Perce in the mountain country to their west and southwest.

Their most dangerous enemy, however, were the political/military/trading alliance of the Iron Confederacy or Nehiyaw-Pwat (in Plains Cree: Nehiyaw – ‘Cree’ and Pwat or Pwat-sak – ‘Sioux, i.e. Assiniboine’) – named after the dominating Plains Cree (called Asinaa) and Assiniboine (called Niitsísinaa – “Original Cree”).

These included the Stoney (called Saahsáísso’kitaki or Sahsi-sokitaki – ″Sarcee trying to cut″), Saulteaux (or Plains Ojibwe), and Métisto the north, east and southeast.

With the expansion of the Nehiyaw-Pwat to the north, west and southwest, they integrated larger groups of Iroquois, Chipewyan, Danezaa (Dunneza), Ktunaxa, Flathead, and later Gros Ventre (called atsíína – “Gut People” or “like a Cree”), in their local groups. Loosely allied with the Nehiyaw-Pwat, but politically independent, were neighboring tribes like the Ktunaxa, Secwepemc and in particular the arch enemy of the Blackfoot, the Crow, or Indian trading partners like the Nez Perce and Flathead.

The Shoshone got horses much sooner than the Blackfoot and soon occupied much of present-day Alberta, most of Montana, and parts of Wyoming, and raided the Blackfoot frequently. Once the Piegan gained access to horses of their own and guns, obtained from the Hudson Bay Company via the Cree and Assiniboine, the situation changed.

By 1787 David Thompson reports that the Blackfoot had completely conquered most of Shoshone territory, and frequently captured Shoshone women and children and forcibly assimilated them into Blackfoot society, further increasing their advantages over the Shoshone.

Thompson reports that Blackfoot territory in 1787 was from the North Saskatchewan River in the north to the Missouri River in the South, and from Rocky Mountains in the west out to a distance of 300 miles (480 km) to the east.

Between 1790 and 1850, the Nehiyaw-Pwat were at the height of their power; they could successfully defend their territories against the Sioux  and the Blackfeet Confederacy.

During the so-called Buffalo Wars (about 1850 – 1870), they penetrated further and further into their territory  in search of the buffalo, so that the Piegan were forced to give way in the region of the Missouri River, the Kainai withdrew to the Bow River and Belly River, and only the Siksika could hold their tribal lands along the Red Deer River.

Around 1870, the alliance between the Blackfoot and the Gros Ventre broke, and the latter began to look to their former enemies, the Southern Assiniboine (or Plains Assiniboine), for protection.

But their biggest enemy was the white man, whom they called the Big Knives.

 

Ceremonies / Dances:

Medicine Lodge Ceremony (Blackfeet Sun Dance)
Tobacco Planting Ceremony
Making of Dreams (Vision Quest)

Sacred Places:

Chief Mountain
Two MedicineMedicine Rock of the Marias
Milk River Medicine Rock
Buffalo Bull Rock, opposite the eastern end of the Little Rocky Mountains, lying on the prairie
Smallest of the three buttes of the Sweet Grass Hills

Taboos:

The Blackfoot avoid eating fish or using canoes, because they believe that rivers and lakes hold special power through habitation of Underwater People called the Suyitapis. The Suyitapis are the power source for medicine bundles, painted lodge covers, and other sacred items. A traditional disdain for fishing persists for many, despite the rich on-reservation fisheries.

In the past, fish, reptiles, and grizzly bears were, except for a few bands, considered unfit for consumption, and still are not eaten much today.

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

2nd weekend in July – North American Indian Days at Browning, Montana, located 30 miles from the Gateway to Glacier National Park

Museums:

Museum of the Plains Indian, Browning, Montana
Montana’s Blackfeet Tribe celebrated in Smithsonian exhibit

Blackfeet Legends / Oral Stories

Art & Crafts:

Beadwork
Porcupine Quillwork

Animals:

Blackfoot oral traditions go back to a time when they had no horses and hunted their game on foot; but even before 1800, they already had many horses, taken from tribes farther to the south, and became noted for their great horse herds. They especially liked to raid Crow horse herds, for their mustang ponies from the Pryor Mountains were said to be able to run all day and go a week without eating.

While the Blackfoot aquired many horses in raids, they were also great horse breeders and developed their own breed of Blackfeet Buffalo Horse.

Many of the animals are regarded as typifying some form of wisdom or craft. They are not gods, yet they have power, which, perhaps, is given them by the Sun or by Old Man. Examples of this are shown in some of the stories. Among the animals especially respected and supposed to have great power, are the buffalo, the bear, the raven, the wolf, the beaver, and the kit-fox.

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Clothing:

The primitive clothing of the Blackfeet was made of the dressed skins of certain animals. Women seldom wore a head covering. Men, however, in winter generally used a cap made of the skin of some small animal, such as the antelope, wolf, badger, or coyote. Sometimes a cap was made of the skin of some large bird, such as the sage-hen, duck, owl, or swan.

The women wore buckskin shirts with long sleeves tied at the wrist, a skirt reaching half-way from knees to ankles, and leggings tied above the knees, with sometimes a supporting string running from the belt to the leggings.

In more modern times, this was modified, and a woman’s dress consisted of a gown or smock, reaching from the neck to below the knees. There were no sleeves, the armholes being provided with top coverings, a sort of cape or flap, which reached to the elbows.

Leggings reached to the knee, and were generally made, as was the gown, of the tanned skins of elk, deer, sheep, or antelope.

Moccasins for winter use were made of buffalo robe with the hair on, and of tanned buffalo cow skin for summer wear. Summer moccasins were always made with parfleche soles, which greatly increased their durability, and were often ornamented over the instep or toes with a three-pronged figure, worked in porcupine quills or beads, the three prongs representing the three divisions of the nation.

The men wore a shirt, breech-clout, leggings which reached to the thighs, and moccasins. In winter both men and women wore a robe of tanned buffalo skin, and sometimes of beaver.

In summer a lighter robe was worn, made of buffalo cow skin or buckskin, from which the hair had been removed. Both sexes wore belts, which supported and confined the clothing, and to which were attached knife-sheaths and other useful articles. Clothing did not have any pockets.

Adornment:

Necklaces and earrings were worn by all, and were made of shells, bone, wood, and the teeth and claws of animals. Elk tushes (ivory teeth, of which there are only two per elk) were highly prized, and were used for ornamenting women’s dresses. A gown profusely decorated with them was worth two good horses.

Eagle feathers were used by the men to make head-dresses and to ornament shields and also weapons. Small bunches of owl or grouse feathers were sometimes tied to the scalp locks. Note in the picture above,  the Blackfeet DID NOT use the full war bonnet or trailing war bonnet styles used by the Sioux Indians.

It is doubtful if the women ever took particular care of their hair. The men, however, spent a great deal of time brushing, braiding, and ornamenting their scalp locks.

Their hair was usually worn in two braids, one on each side of the head. Less frequently, four braids were made, one behind and in front of each ear. Sometimes, the hair of the forehead was cut off square, and brushed straight up; and not infrequently it was made into a huge topknot and wound with otter fur. Often a slender lock, wound with brass wire or braided, hung down from one side of the forehead over the face.

Housing:

It is said that very long ago, before the Blackfeet had horses, the Blackfeet people made houses of mud, sticks, and stones. It is not known what was their size or shape, and no traces of them are known to have been found. For a very long time, the lodge seems to have been their only dwelling.

In more recent times, the Blackfeet lived in buffalo hide tipis, also referred to as lodges, which is a movable structure made of buffalo cow skins stitched together and stretched over a conical frame of wooden poles.

At the top were two large flaps, called ears, which were kept extended or closed, according to the direction and strength of the wind, to create a draft and keep the lodge free from smoke. The lodge covering was supported by light, straight pine or spruce poles, about eighteen of which were required.

Twelve cow skins made a lodge about fourteen feet in diameter at the base, and ten feet high. I have heard of a modern one which contained forty skins. It was over thirty feet in diameter, and was so heavy that the skins were sewn in two pieces which buttoned together. An average-sized dwelling of this kind contains eighteen skins and is about sixteen feet in diameter.

The lower edge of this hide lodge is fastened by wooden pegs, to within an inch or two of the ground. In ancient times, before they had knives of metal, stones were used to hold down the edges of the lodge, to keep it from being blown away.

These varied in size from six inches to a foot or more in diameter. Everywhere on the prairie, one may now see circles of these stones, and, within these circles, the smaller ones, which surrounded the fireplace.

Some of them have lain so long that only the tops now project above the turf, and undoubtedly many of them are buried out of sight.

Inside the tipi, a lining made of brightly painted buffalo skin, reached from the ground to a height of five or six feet. An air space the thickness of the lodge poles, two or three inches, was thus left between the lining and the lodge covering, and the cold air rushing up through it from the outside, made a draft, which aided the ears in freeing the lodge of smoke. The space between the outer walls and the liner also helped block cold drafts from the people inside.

The door was three or four feet high and was covered by a flap of skin, which hung down on the outside. Thus made, with plenty of buffalo robes for seats and bedding, and a good stock of firewood, a lodge was very comfortable, even in the coldest weather.

It was not uncommon to decorate the outside of the lodge with buffalo tails and brightly painted pictures of animals. Painted tipis are sacred, each has a story and unique identity, may not copied or replicated, and can only be transferred by way of an elaborate ritual.

Inside, the space around was partitioned off into couches, or seats, each about six feet in length. At the foot and head of every couch, a mat made of straight, peeled willow twigs, fastened side by side, was suspended on a tripod at an angle of forty-five degrees, so that between the couches spaces were left like an inverted V, making convenient places to store articles which were not in use.

The owner of the lodge always occupied the seat or couch at the back of the lodge directly opposite the door-way. The places on his right were reserved for his wives and daughters, though sometimes a Blackfoot had so many wives that they occupied the whole lodge. The places on his left were reserved for his sons and visitors. When a visitor entered a lodge, he was assigned a seat according to his rank, the nearer to the host, the greater the honor.

Subsistance:

The Blackfeet wer nomadic hunter – gatherers. Their primary food source was the great buffalo herds of the Great Plains. They moved with the seasons, following the buffalo herds or going to favorite areas to dig roots or collect berries. They had no permanent habitations, had no pottery art or canoes, and did not practice agriculture except for the sowing and gathering of a species of native tobacco. The Blackfeet also gathered camas roots in the foothills.

Economy Today:

Chief Mountain Technologies LLC – Specializes in state and federal IT services contracts

In 1990, oil and gas was discovered along the Two Medicine and East Glacier borders.There are now 643 oil wells (producing 50 million barrels annually) and 47 producing gas wells, accounting for 90% of Blackfeet annual Income.

Pencil factory

Logging

Ranching, mainly cattle, some horses.

Glacier Peaks Casino opened in 2006.

Other Tourism : Campgrounds, Horseback riding trips, Guided Tours, Artist Co-op

Blackfeet National Bank, the first tribally-owned, federally chartered bank on an Indian Reservation

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

Chief Mountain is sacred to the Blackfeet
Chief Mountain
Photo Credit: www.rodjonesphotography.co.uk, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Blackfeet have a great number of religious dances, war dances, and social dances. The most sacred is the Sun Dance.

They have secret societies for various purposes. Both sexes may be members of some societies. There is also a military and fraternal organization, similar to that existing in other Plains tribes, known among the Blackfeet as the Ikunuuhkahtsi, or ‘All Comrades,’ and consisting formerly, according to Grinnell, of at least 12 orders or societies, most of which are now extinct.

Practically every adult also has his personal “medicine.” There are also many “sacred bundles,” around each of which centers a ritual.

The principal deities are the Sun, and a supernatural being known as Napi, or ‘Old Man.’ Some say Old Man is synonomous with the Sun, others say he preceded the Sun and created it and all the world.

The Blackfeet believe ghosts can talk to people. There is a belief that sometimes the soul of a dead person may take up its abode in the body of an animal. An example of this is seen in the story of E-kus’-kini. Owls are thought to be the ghosts of medicine men.

Today many Blackfeet are Christians, but that doesn’t conflict with their ancient sense of spirituality and the supernatural. They still hope that an animal’s power or the power of a natural element will be bestowed upon them in a dream.

The animal, often appearing in human form, might provide them with a list of the objects, songs, and rituals necessary to use this power. Then the person should gather the objects into a medicine bundle and do what they have been told to do to avail themselves and others of the power.

Burial / Funereal Customs:

In the old days, the Blackfeet dead were usually deposited in trees or sometimes laid away in tipis erected for the purpose on prominent hills.

Belief in Afterlife

The Blackfeet believe in a sort of Heaven they call the Happy Hunting Ground. You reach the Happy Hunting Ground by crossing a big river in a boat. Once on the other side you will be rewarded for your good deeds in life, and continue to live a joyous life on another plane of existence.

They do not believe in a Hell where bad people are tortured, but rather immediately after death you will enter a state of limbo where every day is boringly the same. If you were a bad person in life, there will be no boat to cross the river and you will be trapped there for eternity.

If you are too attached to loved ones still living, you can be caught in this state of limbo for an undetermined amount of time before passing to the Happy Hunting Ground. The longer you stay there, the harder it will be for you to pass over to the other side of the river.

The Blackfeet believe in haunted places. The Blackfeet do not consider the Sand Hills a happy hunting ground. There the dead, who are themselves shadows, live in shadow lodges, hunt shadow buffalo, go to war against shadow enemies, and in every way lead an existence which is but a mimicry of this life. In this respect the Blackfeet are almost alone.

I know of scarcely any other American tribe, certainly none east of the Rocky Mountains, who are wholly without a belief in a happy future state. The Blackfeet do not especially say that this future life is an unhappy one, but, from the way in which they speak of it, it is clear that for them it promises nothing desirable. It is a monotonous, never ending, and altogether unsatisfying existence, a life as barren and desolate as the country which the ghosts inhabit.

Wedding Customs:

In the Blackfoot culture, men were responsible for choosing their marriage partners, but women had the choice to accept them or not. The male had to show the woman’s father his skills as a hunter and warrior. If the father was impressed and approved of the marriage, the man and woman would exchange gifts of horses and clothing and were considered married. There was no other formal ceremony.

The married couple would reside in their own tipi or with the husband’s family. A man was allowed to have as many wives as he could affort to support. Although the man was permitted more than one wife, he typically chose only one. In cases of more than one wife, quite often the male would choose a sister of the first wife, believing that sisters would not argue as much as total strangers. If a man’s brother were killed, he might take his brother’s widow as an additional wife.

Education and Media:

Tribal College: Blackfeet Community College
Radio:
Newspapers:

Blackfeet People of Note:

Catastrophic Events:

1780 – A band of Blackfeet raided a Shoshone camp not knowing the Shoshone had small pox. The raid resulted in a smallpox epidemic among the Blackfeet band. One third of the Blackfeet band died.

1781 – Piegans attacked dying Northern Shoshone camp, contracted smallpox, 50% deaths.

1819 – Measles Epidemic kills one-third of the Blackfoot and Gros Ventre Population.

1836 – Many children die of diphtheria, by “strangulation of the throat.”

1837 – Smallpox epidemic, brought to the Upper Missouri on the steamboat St.Peters, of the American Fur Company, kills nearly 6,000 Blackfeet, two thirds of the total population. The impact of the Smallpox epidemic is so great and prolonged that it is recorded in the winter count for two years.

1846 – Small Robes Band of Piegans massacred by Crow Indians.

1864 – An epidemic of scarlet fever decimates the Blackfoot tribes. By the spring of 1865 over 1,100 Blackfoot had died.

1869 – Smallpox struck the Blackfoot, again originating with a Missouri River steamboat. By 1870, the death toll reached 1,080 Piegans, 630 Bloods, and 678 Northern Blackfoot.

1870 – The Blackfoot Massacre, often called the Bear River Massacre, the Baker Massacre or the Marias Massacre, occurred when U.S. Soldiers mistakenly attacked the camp of Heavy Runner, a friendly chief, during cold winter weather on January 23.

A column of cavalry and infantry under the command of Major Eugene Baker attacked the sleeping camp early in the morning. The attack was purportedly to be in response to the killing of an influential rancher, Malcom Clark.

Clark had been in several conflicts with Owl Child, a Piegan, who was not camped with Heavy Runner, but with Mountain Chief.

In the early morning hours the cavalrymen spread out in an ambush position along the snowy bluffs overlooking the Marias River. The encampment was unprotected as most of the men were out hunting and before the command to fire was made, Chief Heavy Runner emerged from his lodge waving a safe-conduct paper.

When an Army scout by the name of Joe Kipp shouted that this was the wrong camp, he was threatened into silence. Another scout, Joe Cobell, then fired the first shot, killing Heavy Runner and the massacre ensued.

At the end of the attack, 218 people were killed. The largest numbers of victims were women and children. The army gave the death count at 173. Another 140 women and children were captured. While some political leaders were outraged, no disciplinary actions were taken against any of the soldiers.

As the captives made their way to Fort Benton, Montana, some ninety miles away, many of them froze to death. In the meantime Owl Child, Mountain Chief and his people had escaped across the border into Canada.

1873 – Cypress Hills massacre.

1883 – Extermination of all large herds of buffalo is nearly complete.

1883-84 – Starvation Winter. Buffalo herds suddenly disappear. Over 600 Blackfeet starve during the winter and spring (more than one-fourth of the surviving members of the tribe). This is just the number with documented graves near the Indian Agency. It’s estimated the number may have been double that, counting the camps in outlying areas.

1920 – Blackfeet cattle herds wiped out by a severe winter. Starvation follows.

1964 – Two Medicine River Dam bursts killing 30 and leaving hundreds homeless.

Tribe History:

Blackfeet tribe timeline
Blackfeet Culture and History

In the News:

Further Reading:

A Grammar of Blackfoot – A detailed 319 page phD dissertation on all aspects of the Blackfoot language.

The Blackfeet: Raiders on the Northwestern Plains
The Old North Trail: Life, Legends and Religion of the Blackfeet Indians
Blackfeet Crafts