The Sarsi are an Athapaskan-speaking American Indian group with close linguistic relationships to the Sekani and Beaver to the west and northwest. They now number about five hundred and live on the Sarcee Reserve just southwest of Calgary, Alberta. At the time of contact, with Matthew Cocking in 1772-1773 and Alexander Mackenzie in 1789, the Sarsi inhabited the drainage area of the Athabaska River south to the North Saskatchewan River. At the beginning of the nineteenth century their main hunting grounds were around the latter river. They differed culturally from the neighboring Athapaskan-speaking groups in being heavily infused with Plains Indian cultural features, owing to their long association with the Blood and Northern Blackfoot. By the early nineteenth century they had obtained horses and guns.
The Sarsi were organized into bands, each composed of several closely related families who hunted and camped Together. Band membership was fluid with much splitting and movement of families. Band leadership rested on individual prestige, with no leader holding absolute powers. The bands coalesced in the summer to hunt and hold ceremonies. During the rest of the year the bands or small hunting parties functioned on their own. Bison were the major aboriginal food source—often hunted in communal drives. Bison skin tipis were made by the women. In the twentieth century, many Sarsi have engaged in farming, stock raising, lumbering, and wage-labor work in Calgary.
Marriages were marked by gift exchanges. Polygyny was practiced as were the levirate, sororate, and mother-in-law avoidance for men. In 1897, two divisions of the Sarsi were reported, one at the reserve at Fort Calgary on the Bow River and the other at Battleford in western Saskatchewan. Five bands were counted: the Bloods (Big Plume's Band consisting of mixed Cree and Blood Indians), the Broad Grass (consisting of mixed Cree and Sarsi Indians), People Who Hold Aloof (nearly all Sarsi), Uterus (Blackfoot and Sarsi), and the Young Buffalo Robe. The dances of the male societies, as well as the Sun Dance, were the most important tribal Ceremonies. The dead were given scaffold burials with their clothing and personal possessions. Personal horses were killed. Band leaders or noted warriors were left in abandoned tipis. Personal power was obtained in dreams and visions. In the past, the Sarsi were allied with the Blackfoot against the Assiniboin and Cree.
Dempsey, Hugh A. (1978) The Indian Tribes of Alberta. Calgary: Glenbow-Alberta Institute.
Jenness, Diamond (1938). The Sarcee Indians of Alberta. National Museum of Canada Bulletin no. 90. Ottawa.