Published on October 15, 2010 by John
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Blackfeet Nation flag.
The Piegan Blackfeet (Aamsskáápipikani (Southern Piikáni/Peigan) or simply as Piikáni in Blackfoot) are a tribe of Native Americans of the Algonquian-language family based in Montana. Many members of the tribe live as part of the Blackfeet Nation in northwestern Montana, with population centered in Browning. According to the 1990 US census, there are 32,234 Blackfeet. Three other tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy are First Nations located in Alberta, Canada.
Relations and history
The Blackfeet are closely related to three First Nations in the Canadian province of Alberta. All speak dialects of the Blackfoot language. These First Nations are the Kainai Nation (formerly the Blood), the Northern Peigan and the Siksika Nation. These First Nations and the Blackfeet are sometimes collectively referred to as the Blackfoot or the Blackfoot Confederacy. Ethnographic literature most commonly uses “Blackfoot people”, and most Blackfoot people use the singular Blackfoot. The US and tribal governments officially use “Blackfeet”, as in Blackfeet Indian Reservation and Blackfeet Nation, as seen on official tribe website. The term Siksika, derived from Siksikáíkoan (a Blackfoot person), may also be used in self-identification. In English, an individual may say, “I am Blackfoot” or “I am a member of the Blackfeet tribe.”
The linguistic connection of the Blackfoot language to others in the Algonquian-language family indicate that the Blackfoot had long lived in an area west of the Great Lakes . The Blackfoot language is also agglutinative. Though they practiced some agriculture, they were partly nomadic. They moved westward partially because of the introduction of horses and guns, and became a part of the Plains Indians culture in the early 1800s. However, there is also evidence that they were near the Rocky Mountain front for thousands of years before European contact. The Blackfoot creation story takes place directly below Glacier National Park in what is referred as “Badger-Two Medicine”.
The introduction of the horse is placed at about 1730. In 1900, there were an estimated 20,000 Blackfoot, while today there are approximately 25,000. The population was at times dramatically lower when the Blackfeet people suffered infectious disease epidemics, due to no natural immunity to Eurasian diseases, such as the smallpox epidemic of 1837, which killed 6,000. They also suffered from starvation and war. When the last buffalo hunt failed, 1882 became known as the starvation year. They had controlled large portions of Alberta and Montana. Today the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana is the size of Delaware, and the three Blackfoot reserves in Alberta have a much smaller area.
The Blackfeet hold belief “in a sacred force that permeates all things, represented symbolically by the sun whose light sustains all things.”
The Piegan (also Pikuni, Pikani, and Piikáni) are one of the three tribes of the Siksiká or Blackfoot confederacy. Its divisions, as given by Grinnell, are : Ahahpitape, Ahkaiyikokakiniks, Kiyis, Sikutsipmaiks, Sikopoksimaiks, Tsiniksistsoyiks, Kutaiimiks, Ipoksimaiks, Silkokitsimiks, Nitawyiks, Apikaiviks, Miahwahpitsiks, Nitakoskitsipupiks, Nitikskiks, Inuksiks, Miawkinaiyiks, Esksinaitupiks, Inuksikahkopwaiks, Kahmitaiks, Kutaisotsiman, Nitotsiksisstaniks, Motwainaiks, Mokumiks, and Motahtosiks. Hayden gives also Susksoyiks. In 1858 the Piegan in the United States were estimated to number 3,700. Hayden three years later estimated the population at 2,520. In 1906 there were 2,072 under the Blackfeet agency in Montana, and 493 under the Piegan agency in Alberta, Canada.
The Blackfoot do not have well documented male Two-Spirits, but they do have “manly-hearted women”.These were recorded as acting much of the social roles of men. This includes a willingness to sing alone, usually considered “immodest”, and using a men’s singing style.
Stephen Graham Jones (1972- ) has won a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and the Independent Publisher Book Award for Multicultural Fiction, and other awards. At public readings he has said that his short story “Bestiary” is not fiction.
James Welch (1940–2003), was an award-winning U.S. author and poet. While most of his published work was novels, he also wrote the non-fiction historical account, Killing Custer: The Battle of Little Bighorn and the Fate of the Plains Indians. He was one of the participants in the PBS American Experience documentary, Last Stand at Little Bighorn.
Other authors who wrote about the Blackfeet
George Bird Grinnell (1849–1938) was a non-Indian author and ethnologist, who wrote accounts of the Blackfoot Nation during his travels and research as a conservationist. Grinnell was also an editor of Forest and Stream.