America has been the home for many native American aborigines. Here, you will come to know some interesting facts about the Blackfoot tribe.
The Loyal Carrier
Prior to the adoption of horse by the Blackfoot tribe, they used dogs in order to travel from one place to another as they were nomadic tribes.
Bewildered by the unique name of ‘Blackfoot’? Well, there is a fascinating story which tells you about the coining of this unique name that has become the face of an entire nation of its tribes. The name originated from the fact that these Native American tribes wore footwear, known as moccasins. These footwear were painted in black. There are also legends narrating that these tribal people would walk on ash, and therefore, their footwear would turn black in color, hence the name came into place. There are numerous other such Blackfoot tribe facts which will take you by surprise. On the whole, we should know before proceeding further that they are the hunting tribes who settled near the buffalo herds, and therefore traveled extensively to be near such herds. This article will give a brief understanding about the Blackfoot Indian’s History.
Siksika Kainai, and Piikani are the three aboriginal tribes who make up the Blackfoot Confederacy. The Peigan (Piikani) tribe is sub-divided into two, the North, and the South Peigans. The South Peigans resided in Montana, North America. The rest occupied Alberta region in Canada. All these tribes choose to call themselves, ‘Niitsitapi’, which literally means, ‘the real people’. And they have sufficient reasons to proclaim so, as they are the aborigines.
The Blackfoot people are known for their hunting skills and their expertise in warship. Buffalo or bison was the source for fulfilling all their basic needs. In fact, they were Nomadic tribes and settled in areas where there would be abundant buffaloes. Amongst the three native tribes, the Peigans are the largest in number. They were outright ferocious, so much that they succeeded in keeping the traders at bay for quite sometime.
The White Influence
The foreign influence slowly did creep into the Blackfoot domain. With the coming of the European settlers, there was almost an extinction of the buffaloes, as they were hunted vehemently by them. This left the Blackfoot tribe, with no other choice, but to adopt the more civilized activities of farming and the like. This happened approximately in the 1880s.
Another path-breaking change was the introduction of horses to the Blackfoot tribes. It was a boon to them, for horses served the dual purpose of transportation by carrying the luggage. They also enabled the people to ride on them and hunt the buffalo with greater ease for they didn’t have to chase them on foot.
However, there’s also a flip-side to this rosy story. The Europeans proved to be the carriers of many new diseases, which until now was foreign to the tribe, some of them being smallpox and measles. These diseases killed a significant number of the tribal people.
The Marias Massacre
Any discussion about the Blackfoot tribe would be incomplete without information about the Marias Massacre. On the fateful day of January 23, 1870, the people of the Peigan tribe were attacked by the American army, in the Montana region.
The relations between the Blackfoot Confederacy and the US were sore. Trouble intensified when a Blackfoot tribal man murdered a white trader due to their mutual tiffs.
About 380 soldiers were entrusted with the task of catching hold of a few Blackfeet men on grounds of murder. The American troop was led by Colonel Baker. They found the wrong people and despite being intimidated about the wrong target, the army attacked the tribal people who were almost unarmed at that point of time.
The victims consisted of mostly elderly folks, women, and children.
The Blackfoot Religion
In the previous times, the Blackfeet people rested ultimate faith in one lone God, whom they called, Na’pi, which literally means the ‘Old Man’. This also means the old man is painted in the yellow of the dawn. Therefore, they believed in the ‘light God’ who is not the same as the ‘sun God’.
According to their belief, light God created the sun God, and therefore is superior. But, the sun is also a deity for these Blackfoot tribesmen.
They also worship the natural forces like thunder. They also believe in the divinity of animals.
They hold true the existence of both pious and impious spirits.
They are regular practitioners of fasts, ceremonies, sacrifices. Tradition was supreme for them. They were also very spiritual in nature.
The Blackfoot tribe believes in the existence of underwater humans whom they call as the Suyitapis. Therefore, water bodies are really important for them. They consider them holy.
Sweat Lodge Ceremony
As a result of cultural diffusion, the culture of the tribe was getting adulterated, as was believed by them. This was with the introduction of European influence. Therefore, to sanctify, they introduced the process of Sweat Lodge Ceremony, which is essentially a purification process. They build a lodge which is kept dark and hot. There is a fire pit eastward of the lodge, and there is also the entrance on the same side. It is a cleansing process, where the soul and the body get cleansed from alcohol and caffeine. The process continues to this day, and the man-made things are strict no-no which are not supposed to remain with the person who undergoes this process.
This is again a vital ceremony where the plants sage, and sweetgrass are burned. The smoke created is driven around the person from his toe to the head. The smoke of sage is believed to clear all sorts of negative energies in the aura of the person, and the smoke from the seagrass fills the aura with positive energy. It also helps the people to put forth their prayers better, and make their Creator listen to their prayers.
The Pipe Ceremony
The pipe holds great symbolic importance for the Blackfoot tribe. It is the connection between the two worlds of the mortals and the spirits. The smoke coming out of the pipe helps in communicating one’s messages to the Almighty.
The Blackfoot Culture
Quite predictably, it can be said that these tribal aborigines depended on the bison for their clothing too, after food and other requirements. They used the skin of buffaloes, deer, and also used beads and feathers to accessorize the dress. The men posed in animal skin dresses and leggings which was fastened at the hips with the help of belts. They also wore headdresses. However, the headdress of the warriors and the chiefs were more elaborate. The men also flaunted their moccasins on the feet.
Jewelry was adorned by the women folk, who made them using seashells and beads. They were responsible to stitch dresses for the entire clan. They were also great in handicrafts. Beads were traded by them in exchange for fur. These beads were used extensively by these people.
The headdresses were worn both by men and women. They were decorated with eagle feathers and plumes. There was also another type of headdress which was worn by the warriors and bore a pair of antelope horns. These were known as the Antelope horns. There were also some other headdresses such as Split horn headdress which was also worn by the warriors.
Well, Sun Dance is not just a dance. It is a combination of activities which include, dancing, singing, playing musical instruments like drums, observation of fasts, self-agonizing, and thanksgiving activities. It was celebrated in the summer months, during the full moon nights. It was performed when all the tribes of the Blackfoot gathered together. There was fun, frolic, feasting, dancing, and merry-making. Given the stark nature of the ceremony, it was banned. In the present times, it is observed in a much polished way. Buffaloes and eagles are considered sacred in this ritual. They formed the central theme.
Teepees was the mobile abode of the Blackfoot tribe. They consisted of animal skin, mostly buffaloes or deer which were supported with bamboo poles. The distinguishing feature of this type of a hut is that it can be dismounted and again mounted with absolute ease. These people were nomadic in nature, and therefore moved around in the search of food to far-off lands. With this kind of a home, they could live wherever they wanted to in minimum time. The teepees were designed traditionally with paintings of animals such as bison, deer, snake, crow etc. These paintings were believed to protect the family. The women were responsible for settings up teepees and opening them whenever required.
The staple diet of the Blackfoot tribe was buffaloes. They used the flesh by boiling it, or drying it. They also made pemmican with the small pieces of meat. Apart from this they ate berries, nuts, and plants.
The language of the Blackfoot tribe is part of the Native American language of Algonquian. The two most widespread dialects are Piikani and Siksika. The language still holds good till to this day, but there are significant modifications that are going on in the language of the Blackfoot people, with the youngsters adopting the newer versions.
This was all about the Blackfoot Tribe. It is interesting to know about them, because of the unique name by which they are known, and the ‘buffalo-lore’ that happens to be an inseparable part of their existence. They are also remembered because of the extraordinary chivalry they showcased. They are one of the tribes who have created many designs of fabric, teepees, and also the jewelry they wore. They had a rich culture, and dominate the interests of historians, students and any knowledge monger, for that matter.