The three Nitsitapii Tribes are the Blackfoot in Canada or Blackfeet in U.S. (Siksika), the Kainai (Blood), and the Pikuni (Peigan).
Blackfoot Indian Nations: Siksika, Bloods, and Peigans
The Blackfeet Nation is divided into three divisions which make up four modern day tribes, one in the United States in northern Montana and three in Canada in southern Alberta. They share a historical and cultural background but have separate leadership. They are the Siksika (which means "Black Foot"), the Bloods (also called Kainai or Akainawa), the Peigan (variously spelled Piikani, Pikani, Pikuni, Piegan, or Pikanii) in Canada, and the Blackfeet Nation in the US living on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana. The Blackfoot and Blackfeet were once one tribe, which has been divided by modern day international borders. The part of the tribe located on the US side of the border at Browning, Montana, were renamed the Blackfeet Nation by the US government, a misspelling that is resented by many tribal members.
Famous Blackfeet chiefs and medicine men include Old Woman (a.k.a. Ermine Horses), Captain Jack, Yellow Horse, Crowfoot (Isapo-muxika), White Calf, Lame Bull, Heavy Runner, Little Plume, Generous Women, White Calf, Iron Shirt (Mehkskehme Sukahs), Three Suns, Two Guns , Red Crow (a.k.a.Sitting White
Buffalo, Mi'k ai'stowa), Black Bear, Shot-on-Both-Sides, Crop Eared-Wolf, Mountain Chief (Ninastoko), and Earl Old Person.
Although "Blackfeet" is the official name of this tribe, the word wasn't plural in their language. Blackfoot comes from the word "Siksika," which means "black foot." It refers to the dark color moccasins worn by the people. It was changed by the US government, and some of the Blackfeet of Browning, Montana especially, resent this label and still prefer to be called Blackfoot. Most people today use the terms Blackfoot and Blackfeet interchangably to mean the same group of people.
There are three main divisions, or branches of Blackfoot Indians in two countries, three in Canada and one in the United States. 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 Piegans in Canada. Canadian Piegans 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.
The 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 “red people” because of the ochre they spread on their clothes. This was later translated as “blood people” or “blood."
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 know themselves.
Peigan is a corrupted version of the 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 “Peigans” while their relatives south of the border are the “Piegans”, officially incorporated as the “Blackfeet Tribe of Montana.”
The Piikani 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 way for the history of the term. “Scabby hides” found its relevance in the poorly dressed robes of the women in the community.
The Northern Peigans or Aapátohsipikáni 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 trade, military, and kinship alliance held between the Sikiska, Kainai, and Piikani was referred to as the Blackfoot Confederacy. Later, in the early 1800s, the Tsuu T’ina or Sarcee First Nation would join this alliance.
A Sarcee, Pat Grasshopper, claimed his tribe was originally named Saxsiiwak, meaning hard or strong people. In their own language, they call themselves tsotli’na meaning Earth people. They are also called the Tsuu T'ina, which translates as "a great number of people."
The Blackfeet Indians were a plains tribe who were traditional enemies of the Shoshone and Nez Perce, with whom they shared the buffalo hunting grounds. They are one of the few tribes whose reservations and reserves were actually carved out of a portion of their traditional homelands and are located on the land they requested.
The Blackfeet first aquired horses in 1730, which they called "elk dogs" because of their large size. Prior to this time, they used dogs as a pack animal to pull their travois. The Blackfoot were first introduced to horses in 1730 when the Shoshoni attacked them on horseback.
Smallpox and measles epidemics ravaged the Blackfoot population in the mid-1800's. In one smallpox epedemic in 1837, nearly 6,000 Blackfeet died. Thousands more starved to death after the buffalo herds were wiped out by the Europeans.
Many Blackfeet still speak their traditional language, and it is one of the few indigenous languages in Canada and the United States which has a good chance for survival. About half of all Blackfeet people are bilingual and speak both English and their traditional language. The public school on the Blackfeet Reservation at Browning, Montana has a total emersion language program where elementary students are taught in the Blackfoot language.
Blackfoot artists are known for their fine quill embroidery and beadwork. The big pow wow on the Browning reservation is called North American Indian Days and is held the weekend following the 4th of July each year. There is also a nice museum showcasing the Blackfeet culture in Browning, which lies on the eastern edge of Glacier National Park. In 1895 the tribe sold what is now Glacier National Park to the government for mineral exploration.
The flag, which is not used extensively, is a medium blue and bears at the hoist a ceremonial lance or coup stick, having 29 eagle feathers attached.
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.