Blackfoot / Blackfeet
The Blackfoot began making contact with white traders in 1750. However, they were not in direct contact with any governmental or commercial activities except the fur trade until 1850. By 1855, their US reservation had been established.
The most famous leaders and chiefs of the Blackfoot tribe included:
Morning Owl – Blackfeet (Pikuni),
Chief Running Rabbit
Old Woman (a.k.a. Ermine Horses)
Chief White Calf – Instrumental in selling the US the lands that now make up the eastern half of Glacier National Park.
Chief Lame Bull – Negotiated the treaty of 1855, which became known as the Lame Bull Treaty, and established the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. Originally it included the eastern area of Glacier National Park up to the Continental Divide.
To the Blackfeet, the mountains of this area, especially Chief Mountain and the region in the southeast at Two Medicine, were considered the “Backbone of the World” and were frequented during vision quests.
In 1895, Chief White Calf authorized the sale of the mountain area, some 800,000 acres (3,200 km²), to the U.S. government for $1.5 million with the understanding that they would maintain usage rights to the land for hunting as long as the ceded stripe will be public land of the United States.
This established the current boundary between Glacier National Park and the reservation.
Crowfoot, (ISAPO-MUXIKA – “Crow Indian’s Big Foot”, also known in French as Pied de Corbeau), Chief of the Big Pipes band (later renamed Moccasin band, a splinter band of the Biters band), Head Chief of the South Siksika, by 1870 one of three Head Chiefs of the Siksika or the Blackfoot proper. Negotiated a peace agreement with the Canadian government.
Iron Shirt (Mehkskehme Sukahs)
Old Sun (Sun Old Man – NATOS-API, until 1860 also known as White Shell Old Man) (About 1819 – d. 26 Jan. 1897), a revered medicine man, Chief of the All Medicine Men band (Mo-tah’-tos-iks – “Many Medicines”), Head Chief of the North Siksika, one of the three Head Chiefs of the Siksika
Aatsista-Mahkan (Running Rabbit) (About 1833 – d. January 1911) – Since 1871, he was Chief of the Biters band (Ai-sik’-stuk-iks) of the Siksika, signed Treaty No.7 in 1877, along with Crowfoot, Old Sun, Red Crow, and other leaders.
A-ca-oo-mah-ca-ye (Ac ko mok ki, Ak ko mock ki, A’kow-muk-ai – “Feathers”, since he took the name Old Swan) – Chief of the Old Feathers’ band since about 1820. His personal following, which consisted of about 400 persons, was known as the Bad Guns band, along with Old Sun and Three Suns (No-okskatos) one of three Head Chiefs of the Siksika.
Red Crow (MÉKAISTO, also known as Mi’k ai’stowa, Captured the Gun Inside, Lately Gone, Sitting White Buffalo, and John Mikahestow) (c.1830 – d. 28 Aug. 1900) – Nephew of PEENAQUIM, Chief of the Fish Eaters band (Mamyowis) of the Kainai; after signing Treaty 7, he centralized control of several bands and became the leading Head Chief of the Kainai.
Peenaquim (Pe-na-koam, Penukwiim – “Seen From Afar”, “far seer”, “far off in sight”, “far off dawn”, also known as Onis tay say nah que im – “Calf Rising in Sight”, and Bull Collar), (c.1810 – d. 1869 from smallpox near Lethbridge), son of Two Suns, Chief of the Fish Eaters band (Mamyowis), leading chief of the Kainai; his tribal following is estimated as 2,500 people in 1869
Calf Shirt (ONISTAH-SOKAKSIN, meaning Calf Shirt, also called Minixi, meaning Wild Person) (d. in the winter of 1873–74 at Fort Kipp, Alberta) – Chief of the Lone Fighters band (Nitayxkax) of the Kainai, was known for his hostility to white traders. One of the greatest chiefs of the Kainai (Bloods).
Stu-mick-o-súcks (Buffalo Bull’s Back Fat) – Head Chief of the Kainai, had his portrait painted at Fort Union in 1832.
Earl Old Person (Cold Wind or Charging Home) (1929-) – Tribal Chief and political leader. A member of the Blackfoot Tribal Business Council since 1954, he served as Tribal Chairman from 1964 to 2008. In July 1978, Old Person was appointed honorary lifetime Chief of the Blackfoot Nation. He has also served as president of the National Congress of American Indians and was inducted into the Montana Indian Hall of Fame. Earl is also a well known pow wow singer.
Elouise P. Cobell – Former tribal treasurer and founder of the Blackfeet Nation Bank (first tribally owned bank on an indian reservation). Although she didn’t live to see the funds released, she was the initial instigator of the class action lawsuit that forced the US Government to pay billions to settle accounting errors going back nearly 300 years and mismanagement of land lease Trust Funds owed to native American land owners.
- Truth and consequences on the reservation–the Elouise Cobell story
- Head of Indian trust lawsuit urges tenacity
- Elouise Cobell has died
- Claims dating back more than 100 years settled with more than $1 billion payout
Gordon Belcourt (Meekskimeeksskumapi), which means “Mixed Iron Boy” (1945-2013) – Former Executive Director of the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council and social activist. He also served as the President of the Blackfeet Community College.
Donna Hutchinson – Member of the Arkansas House of Representatives from Bella Vista, Arkansas, service from 2007 to 2013
Steve Reevis (b. August 14, 1962) – Actor (Geronimo: An American Legend, The Missing, Fargo, Last of the Dogmen, Comanche Moon). His first movie job was as a stunt rider in the 1987 film War Party which also had his brother, Tim. Tim later performed in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show at Disneyland in Paris. Steve’s first acting roles, in 1988 was in Universal’s Twins. His non-speaking role as Cheyenne Warrior #1 in the highly acclaimed Dances With Wolves in 1990 brought face recognition for the young actor and helped to open doors for additional roles.
Misty Upham (1982-2014) – Actor (Frozen River, Expiration Date, Edge of America, Skins and Skinwalkers). She also played housekeeper Johnna in August: Osage County and Liz in Cake with Jennifer Aniston. She died in a mysterious accident in 2014, which local police failed to investigate in a timely manner.
Ivan Naranjo (1937-2013) – Actor who worked as a horse back rider for “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show” in Disneyland Paris as Chief Sitting Bull. He was also a member of the Southern Ute.
Byron Chief-Moon – Performer and choreographer
Jerry Potts (also known as Ky-yo-kosi – “Bear Child”) (1840–1896) – He was a Canadian-American plainsman, buffalo hunter, horse trader, interpreter, and scout of Kainai-Scottish descent. He identified as Piegan and became a minor Kainai chief.
Black Lodge Singers – Traditional music and northern drum group. Led by Kenny Scabby Robe, of the Blackfeet Nation, the Black Lodge Singers include his twelve sons. They have released twenty Northern Drum albums for Canyon Records, including two albums of pow wow songs for children.
Heart Butte Singers -Northern Drum Group
Young Grey Horse Society – Northern Drum Group
Siksika Ramblers – Northern Drum Group
Two Medicine Lake Singers – Northern Drum Group and dance troupe.
Troy De Roche – Flute Player
Jack Gladstone – Montana’s Traubadour and Blackfeet poet singer.
Rickey Medlocke – Lead singer/guitarist of Blackfoot.
Shorty Medlocke – Blues musician (Rickey’s grandfather)
Mountain Chief (Ninastoko)
Faye HeavyShield – Kainai sculptor and installation artist.
Joe Hipp – Heavyweight boxer, the first Native American to compete for the WBA World Heavyweight Title.
Stephen Graham Jones – Author
James Welch (1940–2003) – Blackfoot-Gros Ventre author.
Thomas A. Thompson (Siksapope – Black Plume) – Indian Educator with presidential appointments under Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. Former Blackfeet tribal councilman.
Blackfoot / Blackfeet Tribes:
The Blackfoot Confederacy consists of the North Piegan (Aapatohsipiikanii), the South Piegan (Aamsskaapipiikanii), the Kainai Nation (Blood), and the Siksika Nation (“Blackfoot”) or more correctly Siksikawa (“Blackfoot people”).
The South Piegan are located in Montana, and the other three are located in Alberta.
Together they call themselves the Niitsitapii (the “Real People”). These groups shared a common language and culture, had treaties of mutual defense, and freely intermarried.
“Blackfoot Cherokee” refers to a band of Cherokee that had black ancestry, most likely from the adoption of escaped slaves into their society. This band of Cherokee, however, have no connection to the Blackfoot nations.
- Blackfeet Tribe of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation of Montana (Pikani or South Piegan) (United States)
- Blood Reserve No. 148 (Kainai Nation) (Canada)
- Siksika Nation (Canada)
- Piikani No.147 (North Piegan) (Canada)
Chief Stabbed-by-Nustah was a Blackfoot chief who is best known for protesting against the changing of the names of mountains, lakes, rivers and waterfalls in Glacier National Park.
When the European nations began their invasion of the Americas, they assumed that there was only one natural way for a people to be governed: a monarchy. Since most American Indian nations didn’t have monarchies, the Europeans simply invented the idea that a “chief” ruled over a “tribe” in a manner similar to that of a European monarch.
While the United States rejected the concept of monarchy for its own government, it continued to insist that Indian “tribes” were somehow ruled by “chiefs” who acted like monarchs. As a result, there are many people today, including American Indian people, who are not aware that “tribes” and “chiefs” are not aboriginal concepts.
On the Northern Plains, along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains in what is now the U.S. state of Montana and the Canadian province of Alberta, the Blackfoot Nation (sometimes called the Blackfoot Confederacy) was composed of three or four large groups who shared the same language, and many of the same ceremonies, but maintained their political independence. These groups included the Siksika (also called Northern Blackfoot), Kainah (also called Blood), and the Pikuni (also called Piegan or Peigan). The Pikuni are currently divided into South Piegan (located in Montana on the Blackfeet Reservation) and North Peigan (located in Alberta).
Each of these four groups—Siksika, Kainah, North Peigan, and South Piegan—was composed of many small groups commonly called bands. Like other Northern Plains Indian nations, the Blackfoot had an economy that was organized around bison hunting. Blackfoot political organization was, therefore, formed around communal buffalo hunting.
The band was the primary hunting unit and each band was politically autonomous. Prior to the horse, bands among the buffalo-hunting tribes tended to be small – perhaps 20-30 related families with a total population of 100-200 people. According to anthropologist John Ewers in his book The Blackfeet: Raiders on the Northwestern Plains : “These bands were large enough to enable their members to encircle a small herd of buffalo on the prairies and large enough to offer a stiff defense against human enemies; yet they were small enough to permit survival during periods of game scarcity and limited rations.”
Each band had its own chief, usually a man.
The position of chief was not hereditary, but a son could succeed his father if he distinguished himself with leadership qualities, including bravery and generosity. Chiefs were not autocratic, that is, they could not tell people what to do, but led through the power of persuasion.
Among the Blackfoot, the band chief was responsible for preserving peace in the group. This meant that the band chief would arbitrate conflicts and disputes which arose in daily life. One of the important aspects of social control in the band was ridicule: in cases of mild misconduct, ridicule was very effective in shaming the offender into changing behavior. During the summer many of the bands would gather together for a joint encampment which might last as long as two weeks.
During this time there would usually be a Sun Dance and the chiefs might gather in council. At this time, the most influential band chief would be recognized as the head chief of the tribe.
However, the only time when this rank had any significance was during the summer encampment. At this time, the role of tribal chief was really as chairman of the council of chiefs rather than as a ruler.
One of the important characteristic of Blackfoot leadership was generosity which was often expressed in the give-away– an activity condemned by Christian missionaries and the United States government. The give-aways were – and still are — formal events at which one is expected to give away property to other people.
Blackfoot Chiefs were expected to give away most of their property.
Since the primary power of a Blackfoot chief lay in the ability to persuade people, one of the important chiefly qualities was oratory. Chiefs had a reputation of speaking well and telling only the truth. Historian John C. Jackson, in his book The Piikani Blackfeet: A Culture Under Siege , describes the leadership qualities esteemed by the Blackfoot: “Standing tall, speaking straight, exuding dignity and unshakable self-confidence were the attributes that won respect.”
In addition to generosity, Blackfoot leaders were expected to be experienced warriors with a reputation for bravery in battle. War honors were recorded as counting coup—doing things like taking a weapon from a live enemy, capturing a horse from within an enemy camp, and so on. Killing was not necessarily a form of counting coup.
Anthropologist Hugh Dempsey, in one of his articles in the Handbook of North American Indians , writes: “Generally, a band leader had an outstanding record of success in warfare and was regarded as generous to the poor in his distribution of war booty or inherited wealth.”
Howard Harrod, in his book Mission Among the Blackfeet , puts it this way: “Without an impressive war record, as well as a history of philanthropy, no man could hope to become a band chief.” Many bands had both a civil chief and a war chief. The civil chief was generally known for eloquence while the war chief was known for leading successful war parties.
Elouise Cobell heard the stories for years: the government was cheating Native Americans on payments for land rights. She took up the cause, and now the Blackfoot Indians are poised to reap billions.
In Blackfoot country, passing down stories from one generation to the next is an intricate part of tribal culture. The people who live here at the foot of the Montana Rockies pride themselves on the accuracy of this oral tradition.
In the spring, when the geese have returned and the first rumble of thunder has rolled over the land, the Blackfeet begin a series of sacred ceremonies in which the stories they tell must never be embroidered, lest they be colored over time. Truth, they say, is the core of their history.