The Blackfoot are one of the six main Plains Indians tribes. They were called Blackfoot by the white settlers who noticed the bottoms of the tribe’s moccasins were charred black (from walking across burnt prairie). It makes their soles more durable. That’s one of the reasons why they are advanced hunters.
The people of the Blackfoot Confederacy are called Niitsítapi (original peoples) and are mainly in Canada. They consist of the North Peigan. The members of the Blackfeet Nation are called Pikáni and are mainly in Montana. They consist of the South Peigan. They both call themselves Siksikáíkoan (a Blackfoot person) and they both speak Blackfoot. They are in essence, the same tribe, but in different locations, and with only slightly different histories.
It’s arguable whether the tribe is called “Blackfoot “or “Blackfeet”. Their original name was "Blackfoot” and a lot of them are annoyed by the plural “Blackfeet”, which is an Anglicization. Nowadays they are known as “Blackfoot” in Canada and “Blackfeet” in America.
Society and Government
The Blackfoot are divided into four tribes. Three of them live in Canada (approximately 15 000 people) and one Blackfoot tribe lives in America (approximately 10 000 people). All of the tribes are politically independent. They have their own government and some common laws.
In the past, a council of chiefs was on the top of the hierarchy. The council led the nation. One person from each tribe participated in the council. They followed the principle of consensus, meaning that the agreement of each chef is required in order for the decision to be taken.
Roles of Men and Women
Compared to the other Plain's Indians tribes, Blackfoot women had the most rights. They were in charge of the home and their job was not only cleaning and cooking. A Blackfoot woman built her family's house and dragged the heavy posts with her whenever the tribe moved. Women in the Blackfoot tribes owned the houses and that was their main responsibility. The Blackfoot culture allowed warriors of both gender. Other than warriors, men were hunters and their responsibility was to satisfy the family’s needs. The chiefs and other people on top of the hierarchy were male. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music.
The Blackfoot were the most powerful tribe of the Northern Plains. They acquired their triumph position through battles with their enemies. The Blackfeet were using arrows and lances in the times before the horses and firearms. They frequently aligned with their neighbors - the Gros Ventre and the Sarcee, in battles. Blackfoot belongings were carried by domesticated dogs while pulling a loaded travois consisting of two long poles attached to the dog's sides. They acquired horses and firearms by the mid nineteenth century.
The Blackfoot were nomads and it was typical for their lifestyle to move frequently from place to place, following buffalo herds. Hence they lived in a type of houses (called tipis) that were designed to set up and break down quickly. It was like a modern tent. An entire Blackfoot village could be packed up and ready to move within an hour.
Today the situation is different. Most Blackfoot people live in modern houses and apartment buildings. They may only put up a tepee for fun or to connect with their heritage.
Blackfoot dresses and war shirts were fringed and often decorated with elk teeth. The women wore long deerskin dresses, while men wore buckskin tunics and breech cloths with leggings. Both Blackfeet women and men wore moccasins on their feet and buffalo-hide robes in cold weather. Blackfeet people used to paint their faces for special occasions, using different patterns for war paint or religious ceremonies.
Nowadays the Blackfoot people are still wearing moccasins and buckskin shirts, but they normally wear modern clothes. They only put feathers is their hair on special occasions, like performing traditional dances.
Among the important and famous figures of the Blackfoot tribe was the Indian chief Crowfoot. He led the tribe in Canada during the late 19th century. Crowfoot was an accomplished warrior and a gifted diplomat.
Introducing the horse had a big impact on the lifestyle of the Blackfeet. They became known as far-rangers, because of their frequent interaction with other tribes of Montana and the Northern Plains, particularly the Gros Ventre, Shoshone, Crow, and Cree. The Blackfeet used the Plains Indians Sign Language to communicate with the other tribes.
Sometimes the Blackfoot benefited from their interactions a lot. They accomplished trading goods between tribes and intermarrying. Intermarrying was essential because it formed allies for times of war.
Influence on America
The first non-Indian to provide an extensive written record of the Blackfoot was David Thompson, an agent for the Hudson's Bay Company. He traveled into Blackfoot territory in 1787. From this date until the near extermination of buffalo in 1883, the relationship between the trading companies and the Blackfoot was important to the Blackfoot's economic and social lives. It introduced them to new technologies, such as guns. However, it also brought new, unfamiliar to the Blackfoot diseases. The Blackfeet population suffered from epidemics during 1781, 1837, and 1869.
The Lame Bull's Treaty was signed by the powerful Piegan chief during 1855. It was the first treaty of the Blackfoot and it ceded most of the 26 million acre composing traditional Blackfoot territory within U.S. borders. A reserve was left for their exclusive use. More recent treaties signed during 1865 and 1868 significantly decreased the size of their territory along the southern boundary.
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