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Indigenous Peoples' Literature

Blackfoot Piegan


Buffalo Rock
Coyote and the Rolling Rock (Blackfeet/Salish)
Deeds and Prophecies of Old Man
Fish Dog Skin
Heavy Collar and the Ghost Woman
How a Piegan Warrior Found the First Horses
How the Blackfeet got the Buffalo Jump (Piskun)
Kip a ta ki (Old Woman)
Origin of the Sweat Lodge
Tracing Five Generations of a Blackfeet Family
Water Spirit's Gift of Horses
Wise Man of Chief Mountain

"Give wisdom and understanding to my leaders. Protect my warriors and bring them back safe. Give to the young, love and contentment. Give health and long life to my old people so that they may remain with us for a long time. Make my enemy brave and strong, so that if defeated, I will not be ashamed. And give me wisdom so that I may have kindness for all. And let me live each day, so when day is done, my prayer will not have been in vain."

Big Lodge Pole, Blackfeet

The Blackfeet Indians of the United States and Canada are divided into three main groups: the Northern Blackfeet or Siksika, the Kainah or Blood, and the Piegan. The three as a whole are also referred to as the Siksika (translated Blackfeet), a term which probably derived from the discoloration of moccasins with ashes. The three groups constitute what are apparently geographical-linguistic groups. All three speak a language which is a part of the Algonquian family. The Piegan and Blood are the most closely related dialects.

Before the Blackfeet were placed on reservations in the latter half of the nineteenth century, they occupied a large territory which stretched from the North Saskatchewan River in Canada to the Missouri River in Montana, and from long. 105 degrees West to the base of the Rocky Mountains. The Piegan were located toward the western part of this territory, in the mountainous country. The Blood were located to the northeast of the Piegan, and the Northern Blackfeet were northeast of the Blood.

The Blackfeet were placed on four reservations. The Blackfeet Agency, the Blood Agency, and the Piegan Agency are all located in Alberta, Canada. The Blackfeet Reservation in Montana is inhabited by Piegans. (References to Northern Piegan indicate the Canadian Piegan, while references to the Southern Piegan indicate the Montana Piegan.)

The Blackfeet are typical of the Plains Indians in many aspects of their culture. They were/are nomadic hunter-gatherers, who live in tipis. They subsist mainly on buffalo and large mammals and, in addition, gather a lot of vegetable foods. Traditions indicate that the buffalo were/are hunted in drives, although hunting patterns changed when horses and guns were introduced. Deer and smaller game were/are caught with snares. Fish, although abundant, were/are eaten only in times of dire necessity and after the disappearance of the buffalo.

During the summer, the Blackfeet live in large tribal camps. It was during this season that they hunt buffalos and engag in ceremonialism, such as the Sun Dance. During the winter, they separate into bands of from approximately 10 to 20 lodges. Band membership wis quite fluid. There might be several headmen in each band, and one of them wis considered the chief. Headmanship is very informal. The qualifications for the office are wealth, success in war, and ceremonial experience.

The religious life of the Blackfeet centers upon medicine bundles and their associated rituals. These bundles are individually owned and ultimately originated from an encounter with a supernatural spirit. These encounters take the form of dreams or visions, which are sought in a typical Plains type of vision quest. A young man, often under the tutelage of an older medicine man, goes out to some lonely place and fasts until he has a vision. Many of these men fail and never have a vision.

Individual bundles acquire great respect, especially those associated with success in war. Some of these are headdresses, shirts, shields, knives, and lances. Painted lodges are considered to be medicine bundles, and there are more than 50 of them among the three main Blackfeet groups. The most important bundles to the group as a whole are the beaver bundles, the medicine pipe bundles, and the Sun Dance bundle.

The Sun Dance among the Blackfeet is generally similar to the ceremony that is performed in other Plains societies. There are some differences, in that a woman plays the leading role among the Blackfeet, and the symbolism and paraphernalia used are derived from beaver bundle ceremonialism. The Blackfeet Sun Dance includes the following: (1) moving the camp on four successive days; (2) on the fifth day, building the medicine lodge, transferring bundles to the medicine woman, and the offering of gifts by children and adults in ill health; (3) on the sixth day, dancing toward the sun, blowing eagle-bone whistles, and self-torture; and (4) on the remaining four days, performing various ceremonies of the men's societies.

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The Indigenous Peoples' Literature pages were researched and organized by Glenn Welker.