Blackfoot - Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. Aboriginally, the religious life of the Blackfoot centered upon medicine bundles, and there were more than fifty of them among the three main Blackfoot groups. The most important bundles to the group as a whole were the beaver bundles, the medicine pipe bundles, and the Sun Dance bundle. Christianity is practiced now by most Southern Piegan with Roman Catholicism predominating. The Blackfoot apparently never adopted the Ghost Dance, nor is the Peyote Cult present. The Sun Dance and other native religious ceremonies are still practiced among most of the Blackfoot groups.
Ceremonies. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the Sun Dance had become an important ceremony. It was performed once each year during the summer. The Sun Dance among the Blackfoot was similar to the ceremony that was performed in other Plains cultures, though there were some differences: a woman played the leading role among the Blackfoot, and the symbolism and paraphernalia used were derived from beaver bundle ceremonialism. The Blackfoot Sun Dance included 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 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.
Arts. Singing groups were an important form of social intercourse. Porcupine quillwork was considered a sacred craft and some men were highly skilled painters of buffalo-skin shields and tipi covers. Today, achievement in traditional arts and crafts is valued as a sign of Indian identity. Consequently, there are skilled Blackfoot dancers, artists, carvers, leather- and beadworkers, orators, and singers whose work is known both within and beyond Blackfoot society.
Medicine. Illness was attributed to an evil spirit entering the body. Treatment by the shaman was directed at removing the spirit through singing, drumming, and the like. Some practitioners specialized in treating certain illnesses, setting broken bones, and so on.
Death and Afterlife. The dead were placed on a platform in a tree or the tipi, or on the floor of the tipi. Some property was left with the body for use in the next life. The Blackfoot feared the ghosts of the dead, and if a person died in a tipi, that tipi was never used again.