by Richard C. Hanes and Matthew T. Pifer
The Blackfoot Nation is actually a confederation of several distinct tribes, including the South Piegan (or Pikuni), the Blood (or Kainai), the North Piegan, and the North Blackfoot (or Siksika). They traditionally called each other Nizitapi, or "Real People." The name Blackfoot reportedly derived from the black-dyed moccasins worn by some tribal members at the time of early contact with non-Indians. The Blackfoot are also known as the Blackfeet. The Blood, Siksika, and Piegan freely intermarried, spoke a common language, shared the same cultural traits, and fought the same enemies. This confederation traditionally occupied the northwest portion of the Great Plains from the northern reaches of the Saskatchewan River of western Saskatchewan and southern Alberta, Canada, to the Yellowstone River in central Montana including the headwaters of the Missouri River. The Northern Blackfoot live farthest north, the Blood and North Piegan in the middle just north of the Canadian border, and the South Piegan furthest south along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains in northern Montana. The confederation had more than one tribal leader. Each tribe consisted of a number of hunting bands, which were the primary political units of the tribe. Each of these bands was headed by both a war leader and a civil leader, the former chosen because of his reputation as a warrior, and the later chosen because of his eloquent oratory.
In 1809, fur trapper and explorer Alexander Henry estimated the North Blackfoot population at 5,200. In 1832, artist George Catlin estimated the population of the entire confederation at 16,500. By 1840, the population began decreasing significantly from epidemics of diphtheria in 1836 and smallpox in 1837, and from increasing warfare. One southern group of 2,000 in central Montana known to some as Small Robes reportedly disappeared altogether. Still, the Blackfoot reigned over the northern Plains region of southern Alberta and northern Montana into the mid-nineteenth century. By 1896, however, only 1,400 Blackfoot lived in Montana.
As a member of the Algonquian language family, the Blackfoot are related to other Algonquianspeaking tribes whom ethnologists believe migrated onto the plains from the eastern woodlands several centuries before contact with whites. Some Blackfoot do not readily accept that historic interpretation. In The Blackfeet: Raiders on the Northwestern Plains, John C. Ewers stated that the Blackfoot were the "earliest Algonquian residents of the plains." Consequently, their culture is a Plains culture, revolving around warfare, buffalo, and the horse. During the nineteenth century, the Blackfoot confederation was the most powerful of the Northern Plains Native groups, actually impeding to some extent the westward U.S. expansion.
Central to their traditional economy, the Blackfoot relentlessly followed the enormous herds of buffalo. In the time before the horse and firearms, commonly known as the "Dog Days," the Blackfoot used arrows and lances in wars with traditional enemies, including the Shoshone, the Plains Cree, the Sioux, the Flathead, and the Assiniboin. Often, they allied in battle with their neighbors the Gros Ventre and the Sarcee. Domesticated dogs carried Blackfoot belongings by pulling a loaded travois consisting of two long poles attached to the dog's sides. After acquiring horses and firearms around the middle of the eighteenth century, the Blackfoot became the most powerful tribe of the Northern Plains. By the mid-nineteenth century, they had pushed their enemies, particularly the Shoshone, Flathead, and Kootenai, west across the Rocky Mountains.
In the mid-eighteenth century, fur trappers exploring westward, with the hope of establishing trading relationships with the Native population, were the first non-Indians to visit this region. The first trapper to provide an extensive written record of the Blackfoot was David Thompson, an agent for the Hudson's Bay Company, who 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. Trading posts not only introduced them to new technologies, such as guns, but also to new diseases. Smallpox epidemics devastated the Blackfoot population in 1781, 1837, and 1869.
The Blackfoot became respected as an aggressive military force, attacking and destroying several trading posts in their territory. Stories of such events terrified the settlers moving west, who applied to their governments for protection. Due to such concerns, as well as the desire to acquire Blackfoot land, a number of treaties and agreements were negotiated that led to the Blackfoot ceding
George Bird Grinnell, Blackfoot Lodge Tales: The Story of a Prairie People,(Scribner's, New York, 1892).
"T he buffalo have disappeared, and the fate of the buffalo has almost overtaken the Blackfeet."
much of their territory. In 1855, the Blackfoot signed their first treaty, known as Lame Bull's Treaty, after the powerful Piegan chief who signed it. This treaty ceded most of the 26 million acre composing traditional Blackfoot territory within U.S. borders. A reserve was left for their exclusive use. New treaties in 1865 and 1868 significantly decreased the size of their territory along the southern boundary. Continued pressures from expanding white settlements led to hostile resistance by some Blackfoot. In retaliation, the U.S. Cavalry, commanded by Major Eugene M. Baker, indiscriminately massacred 173 Blackfoot in 1870 at Heavy Runner's Piegan's camp on the Marias River.
In 1874, an executive order further reduced the Blackfoot territory in Montana and formally established a reservation on the east flanks of the Rocky Mountains next to the Canadian border. To the north, the Canadian government established reservations in Alberta for the Blackfoot in 1877 through Treaty No. 7, which ceded much of their traditional Native territory. The Bloods reserved almost 350,000 acres, the North Blackfoot over 178,000 acres, and the North Piegan over 113,000 acres. Additional land in the United States was relinquished through agreements in 1887 and 1896. The 1896 a land sale agreement for $1.5 million sold an area that soon became part of Glacier National Park in 1910. The conditions of that agreement continue to be at issue with respect to tribal use of park lands. The modern-day reservation boundaries were essentially set by this time. Lands within the reservation were allotted to individual tribal members between 1907 and 1911 under the General Allotment Act of 1887. This process led to so-called "excess" lands falling into non-Indian ownership.
In Modern Blackfeet: Montanans on a Reservation, Malcolm McFee studied the changing culture of the Blackfoot after the buffalo's disappearance in 1883. He pointed to two significant periods divided by the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The first period lasted from 1884, with the onset of famine caused by the near extermination of the buffalo, to 1935. This period was characterized by Blackfoot dependency on the reservation agent for food and other essential supplies. In addition, there was a massive cultural change due to the new sedentary, agricultural lifestyle. The second period, stretching from 1935 to the 1960s, was characterized by self-sufficiency and self-government, which the Indian Reorganization Act encouraged. Today the Blackfoot Reservation has an established government and an active population. Many Blackfoot support themselves through ranching, industry, and oil and natural gas exploration.
The Blackfoot have always been concerned with their traditional land, recognizing it as sacred and important to their survival. This concern is reflected today in the Blackfoot claim for priority rights over the water resources on the reservation, rights to certain natural resources within the boundaries of Glacier National Park as specified in the 1896 agreement, and the appropriate use of reservation lands by both members and non-members. The traditional values represented in the Blackfoot's concern for the land are also evident in the tribe's ongoing concern over the preservation of their culture. Other issues include the development of industry, the use of oil and natural gas resources, and the maintenance of ranches on the reservation.
Four reservations compose the Blackfoot nation today. The only one in the United States, the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, borders the east boundary of Glacier National Park. It is over 1.5 million acres in size, containing a diverse landscape of mountains and hills, and lakes and rivers. The other three are all located in Alberta, Canada: the Blackfoot Reserve on the Bow River, the Blood Reserve situated between the Belly and St. Mary rivers, and the smaller Piegan Reserve located a short distance west of the Blood Reserve on the Oldman River. By the 1990s, 15,000 Blackfoot lived on the Canadian reserves, while 10,000 lived on the U.S. reservation.
Acculturation and Assimilation
TRADITIONS, CUSTOMS, AND BELIEFS
The Blackfoot avoid eating fish or using canoes, because they believe that rivers and lakes hold special power through habitation of Underwater People called the Suyitapis. The Suyitapis are the power source for medicine bundles, painted lodge covers, and other sacred items. A traditional disdain for fishing persists for many, despite the rich on-reservation fisheries.
The Blackfoot traditionally relied on the buffalo for food, clothing, shelter, and much of their domestic and military equipment. The pervasive use of the buffalo in Blackfoot culture provides the basis for Alfred Vaughan's claim, recorded by John C. Ewers, that the buffalo was the Blackfoot's "Staff of Life." Until the buffalo's near extermination in the early 1880s, they roamed the plains in extraordinarily large herds. Several hunting methods were used throughout Blackfoot history, such as the "buffalo surround" and cliff drives. However, once the Blackfoot acquired the horse and mastered its use, they preferred charging the buffalo on their fast and well-trained "buffalo runners." This method of hunting brought together both courage and skill, traits which the Blackfoot valued most highly.
The traditional shelter of the Blackfoot was a tipi that normally housed one family of about eight individuals. According to Ewers, the typical household was composed of two men, three women, and three children. About 19 pine poles, each averaging 18 feet in length, comprised the tipi's frame. Between six and 20 buffalo skins, often decorated with pictures of animals and geometric designs, covered the poles. Furnishings included buffalo robe beds and willow backrests. The tipi's design allowed for easy movement, a necessity given the traditionally nomadic nature of the Blackfoot-hunting lifestyle. After the buffalo's disappearance and the creation of reservations during the latter half of the nineteenth century, the log cabin replaced the tipi, becoming a symbol of the new sedentary lifestyle. Ranching and agriculture then became the primary means of survival.
Buffalo meat, the staple of the Blackfoot diet, was boiled, roasted, or dried. Dried meat was stored in rawhide pouches. It was also made into pemmican, a mixture of ground buffalo meat, service berries, and marrow grease. Pemmican was an important food source during the winter and other times when buffalo were scarce. In addition to buffalo, men hunted larger game, such as deer, moose, mountain sheep, antelope, and elk. The Blackfoot supplemented their diet with berries and other foods gathered from the plains. Women gathered roots, prairie turnips, bitterroot, and camas bulbs in the early summer. They picked wild service berries, choke cherries, and buffalo or bull berries in the fall, and gathered the bark of the cottonwood tree, enjoying its sweet interior. Fish, reptiles, and grizzly bears were, except for a few bands, considered unfit for consumption.
The Blackfoot used two types of drums were. For the Sun Dance, a section of tree trunk with skin stretched over both ends was traditionally used. The other type of percussion instrument was like a tambourine with hide stretched over a broad wooden hoop. Rattles were traditionally used for various ceremonies, with the type varying with the particular ceremony. Some were made of hide, others of buffalo hooves. Also, whistles with single holes were used in the Sun Dance.
Traditionally, the Blackfoot made their clothing from the hides of buffalo, deer, elk, and antelope. The women tailored dresses for themselves from the durable and pliable skins of antelope or mountain sheep. These dresses were ankle length and sleeveless, with straps to hold them up. They were decorated with porcupine quills, cut fringes, and simple geometric designs often colored with earth pigments. In the winter, separate skin sleeves were added to these dresses along with a buffalo robe. The women also wore necklaces of sweet-grass and bracelets of elk or deer teeth. Clothing changed as contact with white traders increased. Many women began to use wool and other types of cloth to make many of their garments. The buffalo robe, however, for reasons of both warmth and comfort, remained important through the nineteenth century.
The men wore antelope or mountain sheep skin leggings, shirts, breechcloths, and moccasins. In the winter they wore a long buffalo robe, often decorated with earth pigments or plant dyes and elaborate porcupine quill embroidery. They also wore necklaces made from the claws and teeth of bears, and from braided sweet grass. In general, this dress was common among Blackfoot men until the last decade of the nineteenth century. At this time what was called "citizen's dress," according to John C. Ewers, became popular, due to both pressure from missionaries and the disappearance of the buffalo. "Citizen's dress" consisted of a coat, trousers, and moccasins, which were preferred over the inflexible shoes of the white man.
DANCES AND SONGS
Traditionally, the Blackfoot had numerous dance societies, each having a social and religious function. Dances, usually performed at summer gatherings, reflected Blackfoot emphasis on hunting and war. Men were honored in the dances for bravery in battle or for generosity in sharing meat from a hunt. The Blackfoot Sun Dance was a major annual dance ceremony involving the construction of a special circular lodge. The actual dance involved men fasting and praying, and dancing from the wall to a central pole and back inside the Sun Dance lodge. Voluntary piercing of the chest for ritual purposes was sometimes a concluding feature of the dance.
Today, the Blackfoot hold the North American Indian Days Celebration in Browning, Montana every July. The large pow wow draws Native peoples from throughout the region for singing, dancing, and socializing. Blackfoot customs were the subject of a 1982 film, The Drum is the Heart, produced by Randy Croce. The film traces how long-standing Blackfoot traditions are still a part of modern celebrations. The film shows ceremonial costumes, tipi decoration, social interactions, and the ongoing role of pow wows.
The Blackfoot believe spirits to be an active and vital of everyday life. Therefore, they viewed illness as the visible presence of an evil spirit in a person's body. Consequently, such illness required the expertise of a professional medicine man or woman who had acquired, through a vision, the ability to heal the sick by removing evil spirits. In their visions a supernatural power instructed the medicine people, who then called upon this power to assist them during healing ceremonies. John C. Ewers in Indian Life on the Upper Missouri observed that upon the conclusion of the traditional healing ceremony a medicine person might physically remove some object from the sick person, presenting it as proof that the ceremony had been successful. Lesser injuries, such as cuts, were treated with medicinal herbs. The medicine person commonly acquired such knowledge through an apprenticeship. Traditionally, horses were offered as payment for a medicine person's services. Today, the Blackfeet Indian Hospital, operated under the Indian Health Service, is located in Browning and provides local health services to the Blackfeet Reservation.
The Blackfoot Indians' Algonquian dialect is related to the languages of several Plains, Eastern Woodlands, and Great Lake region tribes. Ewers stated that by migrating west, the Blackfoot encountered Athapascan-, Shoshonean-, and Siouan-speaking tribes, which distinguished their particular dialect, along with isolation from other Algonquian-speaking tribes. Although the Blackfoot did not have a syllabary, they did record their traditional stories and important events, such as wars, in pictographs on the internal and external surfaces of tipis, and on their buffalo robes. Like other Native groups attempting to preserve their languages, a resurgence occurred in the use of the Blackfoot language by the end of the twentieth century.
GREETINGS AND POPULAR EXPRESSIONS
Examples of the Blackfoot language and words include: Tsá kaanistáópííhpa ? — How are you?; Amo(i)stsi mííinistsi iikááhsiiyaawa — These berries are good; Póóhsapoot ! — Come here!; Nitsíksstaa nááhksoyssi — I want to eat; Kikáta'yáakohkottsspommóóhpa ?; — Can I help you?; Tsimá kítsitokoyihpa ?; — Where do you live?; Isstónnatsstoyiiwa — It's extremely cold; ookáán — Sundance; Ássa ! — Hey!; Inihkatsimat ! — Help!; and, Wa'piski-wiya's — White man.
Family and Community Dynamics
During the dark years of 1884 to 1910, when the Blackfoot population was at its low ebb, Western educational facilities were introduced to the Montana reservation. Holy Family Mission, a Catholic boarding school, was the earliest educational institution on the Blackfoot reservation. A government boarding school followed the boarding school, and later, day schools. These schools strongly focused on assimilating Blackfoot students into American society, forbidding the practice of traditional customs, including native language use. Federal programs in the 1930s provided funds for college and vocational education. Over 120 Blackfoot held college degrees by 1950.
As with many tribes, a revitalization of tribal traditions and customs grew in the late twentieth century with education initiatives leading the way. The Blackfoot's Algonquian language and their traditional cultural values are taught today through head-start programs in primary and secondary schools on the reservation. Similar programs have also been created for adults at neighboring colleges, such as the Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Montana. Strengthening the sense of community through a continued identification with their heritage is one goal of these programs. They also help the Blackfoot overcome such social problems as alcoholism, poverty, and crime. The Blackfeet Community College, established in 1976, became fully accredited by 1985. The college is a member of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES). The two-year school had 400 students by the early 1990s. Tribal members have assumed leadership roles in AISES through the years. Judy M. Gobert was Treasurer of AISES in 1999 while teaching at the Salish-Kootenai College in Pablo, Montana. Gerald "Buzz" Cobell was on the AISES board. Old Sun Community College is located in Gleichen, Alberta on the North Blackfoot Reserve.
THE ROLE OF WOMEN
A major traditional activity of Blackfoot women was hide tanning. Tanning was long and hard work. Hides were staked on the ground fur-side down and scraped to remove all fat and meat and then they were flipped over to scrape off all of the hair. The scraping continued until the skin became soft and clean. To produce softer skins, the hide was rubbed with mixtures of animal brains, liver, and fat. After drying in the sun, the hide was then soaked in water, rolled in a bundle, and cured. After curing, the hide was again stretched and scraped. Each hide took many hours. The worth of Blackfoot women was largely judged by the number and quality of hides they produced. Women were also responsible for butchering, curing, and preparing meat. Other roles for Blackfoot women included making, erecting, and owning the tipis. According to John C. Ewers in Indian Life on the Upper Missouri, many of the more popular Blackfoot traditional healers were women.
COURTSHIP AND WEDDINGS
Marriage traditionally played an important role in both the social and economic lives of the Blackfoot. Marriages were arranged by close friends or relatives or were prearranged by the bride's parents when she was still a child. Before any wedding could take place, the man needed to convince the bride's father, relatives, or friends that he was worthy. This condition of marriage meant he had to prove that he was a powerful warrior, a competent hunter, and an economically stable husband. Due to these requirements, very few men married before the age of 21. Exchanging gifts was central to the marriage ceremony. Both the groom and the bride's families offered horses, household goods, and robes. After the wedding, the new couple lived either in their own hut or in that of the husband's family.
After dying, individuals were traditionally dressed in ceremonial clothes, their faces were painted, and they were wrapped in buffalo robes. The body was then buried atop a hill, down in a ravine, or placed between the forks of a tree. Both men and women mourned the death of loved ones by cutting their hair, wearing old clothes, and smearing their faces with white clay. The possessions of the deceased were distributed according to a verbal will. When no verbal will existed, custom called for the band members to take whatever possessions they could gather before others claimed them. However, when a prominent leader died, his possessions were left within his lodge, and his horses were shot. The spirit of the deceased did not leave this world, but traveled to the Sand Hills, an area south of the Saskatchewan River. Although invisible, spirits lived there much as they had in life, and often communicated with the living as they passed through this region.
INTERACTIONS WITH OTHER ETHNIC GROUPS
Military societies, called aiinikiks, were a basic element of Blackfoot society. The Blackfoot had strong and friendly relations with the Athapascan-speaking Sarcee to the north and were generally friendly with the Gros Ventre. But long term enemies existed among the Nez Perces, the Flathead, the Northern Shoshoni, the Crow, the Cree, the Assiniboine, and
"All of the Blackfeet universe," Malcolm McFee stated in Modern Blackfeet: Montanans on a Reservation, "was invested with a pervasive supernatural power that could be met with in the natural environment." The Blackfoot sought these powers, believing the life of the land and their own lives were irrevocably bound. An animal's power or the power of a natural element would frequently be bestowed upon an individual in a dream. The animal, often appearing in human form, provided the dreamer with a list of the objects, songs, and rituals necessary to use this power. The dreamer gathered the indicated items and placed them into a rawhide pouch called a medicine bundle. The power of this bundle and the associated songs and rituals were used in many social and religious ceremonies. The most powerful medicine bundle among the Blackfoot was the beaver medicine bundle. According to Ewers, this bundle was used by the Beaver Men to charm the buffalo, and to assist in the planting of the sacred tobacco used in the medicine pipe ritual performed after the first thunder was heard. Medicine bundles were continually traded among members of the tribe in elaborate ceremonies, in which the physical pouch and its constituent power were literally transferred from one owner to another.
Primary to the traditional Blackfoot religious life was the communal Sun Dance, held in the middle of the summer. The Sun Dance was a sacred celebration of the sun that was initiated by a "virtuous" woman in one of the Blackfoot bands. A woman who pledged, or "vowed" to take on the responsibilities of sponsoring the Sun Dance was called the "vow woman." Typically, the vow woman took on the position as a display of gratitude to the sun for the survival of someone in the vow woman's family. If, for example, a brother or sister had somehow narrowly escaped death, a woman in that person's family would seek to become the vow woman. The vow woman was required to fast prior to the Sun Dance, to prepare food for the Sun Dance, to buy a sacred headdress, and to learn complex prayers.
As word spread about the vow woman and the location of the Sun Dance, bands of Blackfoot drifted toward the site of the Sun Dance and began to prepare the Sun Dance Lodge at the center of a circle camp. Once the Sun Dance lodge was erected around the central cottonwood pole, the dance began and lasted four days. During this time, the dancers, who had taken their own sacred vows, fasted from both food and water. They called to the sun, through sacred songs and chants, to grant them power, luck, or success. Some pierced their breasts with sticks, which were then attached to the center pole by rawhide ropes. The dancers pulled away from the pole, until these skewers tore free. Other men and women would cut off fingers or pieces of flesh from their arms and legs.
The Sun Dance was considered barbaric by the Catholic missionaries. Father J. B. Carroll, for example, opined that the Sun Dance reminded the Blackfeet "of the darkest days of heathenism and bloodshed, because it is the day on which they parade as real savages in their war paints and war dances." William E. Farr, author of The Reservation Blackfeet, 1882-1945, agrees that the Sun Dance may have allowed the Blackfeet to bridge the gap between the past and the present, but he adds that the Sun Dance was "a series of sacred acts, sacrifice, and vision, an annual renewal — one that gave the Blackfeet enough presence and strength to go on for another year. Although the missionaries tried to suppress the Sun Dance in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, it has never totally disappeared and has experienced a renewal in recent times.
Catholicism was a major religion among the Blackfoot through the twentieth century. Catholic Jesuits, or "Black Robes," were the first Christian missionaries to reach the Blackfoot bands. In 1859, Catholic Jesuits erected the St. Peter's Mission near Choteau on the Teton River. The Methodist Church arrived shortly after the Jesuits did, and they made their own inroads into Blackfoot spiritual life. Agent John Young, a Methodist minister, managed to get the Jesuits banned from the Blackfoot reservation during the Starvation Winter of 1883-1884, but the Jesuits, led by Peter Prando, set up shop just across the reservation boundary on the south side of Birch Creek. Although Christianity maintains a presence in the Blackfoot community, traditional religious practices involving medicine bundles, the Sun Dance, and sweat baths are still practiced.
Employment and Economic Traditions
Through the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Blackfoot followed the movements of buffalo in bands composed of 20 to 30 families. The territory ranged from the edge of the Saskatchewan forests in the north to the Missouri River country to the south. With the near extinction of buffalo herds in 1883, the traditional economy was destroyed and many died from starvation. The winter of 1883-1884 was so particularly devastating that it became known locally as the Starvation Winter. By the early twentieth century, the government carried out irrigation projects employing many tribal members. By 1915, the emphasis shifted from farming to ranching. Some prospered grazing their own herds, while others leased their lands to stockraisers for little return. The tribe lost over 200,000 acres through this period due to their inability to pay taxes. Approximately thirty percent of the reservation fell into non-Indian hands.
In the 1920s, a Five Year Industrial Program was begun that encouraged planting vegetable gardens and small fields of grain. This initiative relieved some economic problems. The 1930s brought federal works programs. Many Blackfoot took part in the Works Progress Administration projects and the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Later in the century, the Blackfoot won two substantial monetary judgements from the United States. Monies were awarded in compensation for irregularities associated with the 1888 relinquishment of vast areas in eastern Montana. A $29 million settlement for unfair federal accounting practices with tribal funds was awarded in 1982.
Under the guidance of prominent tribal leader Earl Old Person, a major recreational complex, an industrial park, a museum and research center, housing developments, and a community center were constructed on the reservation. Blackfeet Writing Company of Browning, Montana was established in 1971, is a successful company that makes pens and pencils. Other ventures including lumber mills and the purchase of the American Calendar Company in 1988 have been less successful.
The Blackfoot, along with six other tribes including the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Crow, formed the Montana Indian Manufacturer's Network to promote jobs for Indians in economically depressed areas. The foundation was the subject of a 1992 film, Tribal Business in the Global Marketplace, produced and written by Carol Rand and directed by Thomas Hudson. In addition, leasing lands for grazing and oil and gas exploration has provided relatively steady income to the Blackfoot. In 1997 the Blackfoot signed an agreement with the K2 Energy Corporation to begin oil and gas exploration on Montana reservation lands. Despite these initiatives, an unemployment rate of over 50 percent persisted through the 1990s.
Politics and Government
Blood tribal leader Crowfoot (1830-1890) was born at Blackfoot Crossing near where Calgary, Alberta was later founded. In his youth he moved from the Blood to Northern Blackfoot tribe where he gained a reputation as a warrior, leader, and orator. Crowfoot was leader of the Canadian Blackfoot during the transitional period from their traditional economy based on buffalo hunting to reservation-based farming. Foreseeing the need to establish friendly relations with the Euroamericans, Crowfoot represented the Blackfoot, Bloods, Piegans, and Sarcees in 1877 treaty negotiations that led to establishment of governmental relations with the Canadian government. Crowfoot maintained peaceful relations with Canada, even during hostilities in 1885 involving other Native Canadians. Crowfoot continued his leadership role during the early reservation period, traveling to Montreal as his people's representative to meet with the prime minister Crowfoot's name provided the basis for a 1968 film titled The Ballad of Crowfoot, which was produced by Barrie Howells and directed by Willie Dunn. The film looked at the history of western Canada through the eyes of Native populations.
For the Blackfoot of Montana, the 1934 Indian Recognition Act began their modern economic and political development. Under the authority of the act, the Blackfoot chose to write a constitution establishing a tribal council. The governmental changes placed remaining tribally owned lands into a more stable federal trust status and provided loans for economic pursuits, such as raising livestock and for education. Each Blackfoot reservation is governed by a general council headed by a single chairman. The Montana Blackfoot reservation, for example, is lead by the Tribal Business Council composed of nine members elected to two year terms. The council is headquartered in Browning, the largest of five reservation communities. To qualify for tribal programs, tribal members carry identification cards showing their enrollment number and blood quantum degree.
Individual and Group Contributions
Gerald Tailfeathers (1925-1975), one of the first Native Canadians to become a professional artist, was born at Stand Off, Alberta among the Blood branch of Blackfoot. His talents for painting were recognized early in life, and Tailfeathers attended the School of Fine Arts in Banff, Alberta and the Provincial School of Technology and Art in Calgary. Tailfeathers depicted Blackfoot peoples in late nineteenth century settings such as buffalo hunting ceremonies. His style was considered pictorial in its portrayals.
Richard Sanderville (c. 1873-1957), part Piegan, grew up on the Montana Blackfoot Reservation and became a student in the use of traditional sign language. He inherited this interest from his father and grandfather who also served as interpreters between the Blackfoot and Euroamericans from the fur trade era onward. He was among the first group of Blackfoot enrolled at the famed Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. Sanderville later served on the Blackfoot tribal council. Seeking to relieve the poverty of the area in the 1920s, he helped organize the Piegan Farming and Livestock Association. Sanderville helped develop the Dictionary of the Indian Sign Language with the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. in the 1930s. He was also instrumental in establishing the Museum of the Plains Indian on the Blackfoot Reservation in 1941 in an effort to preserve tribal history.
Vivian Ayoungman (1947– ) was born east of Calgary, Alberta in the Siksika Indian Nation to a ranching family. Ayoungman earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Calgary in secondary education in 1970 before going on to earn a Ph.D. from Arizona State University in Phoenix. While at University of Calgary she helped establish the Indian Student University Program, where she served as counselor. Ayoungman was elected to the board of directors and later served as academic vice president of Old Sun Community College in the 1970s. Following graduate studies, Ayoungman returned to Calgary where she became director of education for the Treaty Seven Tribal Council. Throughout her career, Ayoungman has presented many talks promoting the image of Native Canadians and their traditional values and cultural traits.
Ed Barlow was a noted educator in Montana, serving as superintendent of the Browning Public Schools. He was the first American Indian appointed to the Montana State Board of Education before becoming regional director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in the Minneapolis Area Office.
King Kuka (1946– ) was born in Browning, Montana and attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the mid-1960s. Kuka's poetry has been published in several works, including The Whispering Wind (1991) and Voices of the Rainbow (1992). Kuka is also a painter and a sculptor.
One of the more noted tribal members in the arts is Blackfoot novelist James Welch (b. 1940). Welch was born on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning and also has kinship ties to the Gros Ventre of northeastern Montana. After graduating from the University of Montana, Welch has employed his Native background in writing about the human relationship to the natural landscape, Indian mythology, cultural traditions, tribal history, and the plight of Native life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He published a collection of poems in Riding Earthboy 40 in 1971 and the novel Winter in the Blood in 1974. In Killing Custer (1994), Welch presents the Native perspective on the epic Battle of Little Horn. Other works include The Death of Jim Loney (1979), Fools Crow (1986), and The Indian Lawyer (1990). Welch has been recognized as one of the early influential writers in American Indian literature. Welch teaches contemporary American Indian literature on occasion at Cornell University in New York.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Architect Douglas Cardinal (1934– ) was born in Red Deer, Alberta in Canada. His father was a member of the Northern Blackfoot. Cardinal graduated with a degree in architecture from the University of Texas in 1963. He quickly achieved a reputation as innovator in architectural design by combining Native traditions with advanced technology. The firm Douglas Cardinal, Architect, Limited of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada designed several Indian education centers, the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec and the master campus plan for the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. The film involved in the initial design of the National Museum of the American Indian, proposed for the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
James Gladstone (1887-1971) became the first Native Canadian to serve as a senator in the Canadian Parliament. Gladstone, born at Mountain Hill in the Northwest Territory, grew up on the Blood Blackfoot Reservation in Alberta. A successful farmer on the Blood Reserve, he was the first Blood to have electricity or use a tractor. He became active in representing Native Canadian concerns before the national government in the late 1940s. Gladstone founded the Indian Association of Alberta in 1939, serving as president of the organization from 1948 to 1954 and again in 1956. Gladstone was appointed senator in 1958 and served 17 years. He was a strong proponent for protecting the traditions of Native Canadians, as well as economic improvement. He also delivered the first Parliament speech in Blackfoot language. During his tenure, treaty Indians received the right to vote in national elections. He was named Outstanding Indian of the Year in the 1960s.
Earl Old Person (1929– ) became one of the most highly esteemed and honored individuals in the state of Montana, as well as the nation. He was born in Browning, Montana to Juniper and Molly (Bear Medicine) Old Person, who were from prominent families on the Blackfoot Reservation in northern Montana. By the time he was seven, he had started his long career of representing Native Americans, presenting Blackfoot culture in songs and dances at statewide events. In 1954, at the age of 25, Old Person became the youngest member of the Blackfoot Tribal Business Council. He was elected as its chairman ten years later in 1964 and, except for two years, held that position into the 1990s. Old Person also served as president of the National Congress of American Indians from 1969 to 1971 and president of the Affiliated Tribes of the Northwest from 1967 to 1972. He was chosen in 1971 as a member of the board of the National Indian Banking Committee. In 1977, he was appointed task force chairman of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Reorganization. He was charged with the task of recommending to the Secretary of the Interior changes in BIA policy that were desired by Indian leaders throughout the nation. He won the prestigious Indian Council Fire Award in 1977 and has traveled extensively meeting with many dignitaries and celebrities. In July of 1978, Old Person was given the honorary lifetime appointment as chief of the Blackfoot Nation. In 1990 he was elected vice-president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), a national political interest group that lobbies on behalf of U.S. tribes. Old Person, through his gentle demeanor and sincere desire to help others, has done much to promote the ideas of Native Americans in the United States and further positive relations between Indian communities and U.S. society.
Forrest J. Gerrard (1925– ) became Assistant Secretary of Interior for Indian Affairs during the 1970s oversight management of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Born in Browning, Montana, Gerrard flew 35 combat missions as an Air Force pilot in World War II before returning home to represent American Indians before the U.S. government. He was director of the Office of Indian Affairs for the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare before being appointed to Assistant Secretary position.
George Burdeau (1944– ), a member of the Blackfoot, received a degree in communications from the University of Washington before undertaking graduate work and studies at the Anthropology Film Center and Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Burdeau went on to produce, direct, or write more than 20 film and television productions. Early in his career he worked on Native American subjects for Public Broadcasting System before working for the major television networks after the mid-1980s. Burdeau became director of the Communication Arts Department at the Institute of American Indian Arts.
Blackfeet Tribal News.
A newspaper providing information about current events of the Blackfoot, published by Blackfeet Media.
Address: Blackfeet Community College, P.O. Box 819, Browning, Montana 59417.
Telephone: (406) 338-7755.
Contact: Brian Kavanagh, Publisher.
Address: Box R, Browning, Montana 59417-0317 USA.
Telephone: (406) 338-2090.
Fax: (406) 338-2410.
Montana Inter-Tribal Newsletter.
Address: 6301 Grand Avenue, Department of Indian Affairs, Billings, Montana 59103.
Organizations and Associations
Blackfeet Community College.
Tribally-controlled two-year college chartered by the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council in 1974.
Contact: Carol Murray, President.
Address: Highway 2 and 89, P.O. Box 819, Browning, Montana 59417.
Telephone: (406) 338-5411.
Online: http://www.montana.edu/wwwbcc/ .
Blackfeet Crafts Association.
Handles retail sales and mail orders for crafts produced by Blackfoot tribal members.
Contact: Mary F. Hipp.
Address: P.O. Box 51, Browning, Montana 59417.
Address: P.O. Box 850, Browning, Montana 59417.
Telephone: (406) 338-7276.
Montana Inter-Tribal Policy Board.
The Board seeks to represent and advance the economic and social well-being of Montana's Native population. It promotes social services, economic development, natural resource development, and law enforcement among other services.
Contact: Roland Kennedy.
Address: P.O. Box 850, Browning, Montana 59417.
Telephone: (406) 652-3113.
Museums and Research Centers
Montana Historical Society Museum.
Founded in 1865, information is available on the culture history of Montana, including newspapers, photograph archives, unpublished diaries and manuscripts, and an extensive library. The Museum also publishes the quarterly periodical, The Magazine of Western History.
Contact: Susan R. Near.
Address: 225 N. Roberts, Helena, Montana 59620.
Telephone: (406) 444-2394.
Museum of the Plains Indian and Crafts Center.
Founded in 1938, the museum is operated by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board of the United States Department of Interior, promoting the historic and contemporary Native American arts of Northern Plains Native cultures.
Contact: Loretta Pepion.
Address: P.O. Box 400, Browning, Montana 59417.
Telephone: (406) 338-2230.
University of Wyoming Anthropology Museum.
The museum contains cultural heritage information of the Northern Plains cultures of the United States.
Contact: Dr. Charles A. Reher, Director.
Address: P.O. Box 3431, Laramie, Wyoming 82071-3431.
Telephone: (307) 766-5136.
Fax: (307) 766-2473.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Online: http://www.uwyo.edu/AS/anth/index.htm .
Sources for Additional Study
Duke, Philip. Points in Time: Structure and Event in a Late Northern Plains Hunting Society. Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1991.
Ewers, John C. The Blackfeet: Raiders on the Northwestern Plains. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1958.
——. Indian Life on the Upper Missouri. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968.
Farr, William E. The Reservation Blackfeet, 1882-1945, University of Washington Press, 1984.
McClintock, Walter. The Old North Trail, or, Life, Legends, and Religion of the Blackfeet Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.
Samek, Hana. The Blackfoot Confederacy, 1880-1920: A Comparative Study of Canadian and U.S. Indian Policy. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1987.
Scriver, Bob. The Blackfeet: Artists of the Northern Plains. Kansas City: The Lowell Press, Inc., 1990.