The Blackfoot Indians


The wind blows across the lone prairie, causing the golden heads of
grass to sway in a synchronized motion. On the horizon stands a herd of buffalo
with bowed heads silhouetted by the slowly sinking sun. In the east stands an
Indian war party mounted on horseback, each individual in different multicolored
attire, all with either bows or spears in hand. As they move in for the attack,
the mystical scene slowly fades from vision....
This dreamlike scene was once everyday life to the American Indian
before they were robbed of all that made their life real. The Indians
originally came over to North America via the Bering Strait at a time when the
ice age caused the gap to freeze over. They came from Asia by following herds
and in search of more. During their travels, some decided to stop and settle
down, hence the many different tribes. The Blackfoot occupied the region of
modern day Alberta in Canada, and Montana in the U.S. The Blackfoot consisted
of three main tribes: the Northern Blackfoot(Siksika), the Piegan(Pikuni), and
the Blood(Kainah). The tribes differed little in their speech, but were
politically independent. Blackfoot population varied, but was less affected by
the arrival of the white man than some tribes due to their location. "In 1855,
there were approximately 2,400 Northern Blackfoot, 2,000 Blood, and 3,200 Piegan.
The total population of Blackfoot varied as follows: 15,000(1780), 9,000(1801),
7,600(1855), and 4,600(1932)" ( ). The decline of population was
most likely due to the white man's diseases and the annihilation of the buffalo.
In 1781, the Blackfoot had their first serious attack of smallpox. An epidemic
of smallpox again occurred in 1838, 1845 1857, and 1864. In the winter of 1864,
the tribe was struck with measles and about 780 died. In the winter of 1883 to
1884, more than 1/4 the Piegan population died of starvation (600). This was
mainly the result of official stupidity and the disappearance of the buffalo.
The Blackfoot were typically large-game hunters and were mainly
dependant on the buffalo for their diet, clothing, and receptacles. They also
hunted such animals as the elk, deer, and antelope. There were four main
methods of hunting, one of which was the "surround". This method required the
use of horses and was done by surrounding the herd, after which they were shot
down. Another method was accomplished by driving the game down a cliff, in
which the fall would injure the animal enough to hinder their escape. A third
method used was impounding, which resembled modern day cow herding. The hunting
party would build fences into which they would herd the animals. Yet another
method was to encircle the herd with fire. The hunters would leave an opening
at which they would wait since it was the animals' only escape. In times of
need, the Blackfoot would catch fish by using crude basketry traps. They also
made use of the wild plants, including berries, chokecherries, wild turnips, and
many others. The wild turnip was dug up in large amounts in early summer and
was peeled and dried for winter use. Maize, beans, squashes or pumpkins, and
sunflowers were the principal crops grown. Most of the cultivation of
agriculture was done by women.
The Blackfoot, as all Indians, grew and used tobacco mainly for
ceremonies and other solemn occasions. The seeds were inserted in early spring
in separate fenced gardens, about 21 X 18 ft. In mid-June, the blossoms were
picked and dried indoors. The blossom was more prized than the stem or leaves,
which were picked just before the frosts came. The stems provided the greater
part of the smoking tobacco. Both crops were oiled with buffalo fat before
being stored in a pouch for future use. Seeds were set out for the following
year without selection. The cultivating of the tobacco plant was done by old
men, and women assisted them. Men were the main smokers of tobacco, but some
women smoked it in small pipes. Being a superstitious people, some Blackfoot
would not smoke while an old pair of moccasins were hanging up; others put the
pipe on a slice of buffalo tongue before use. The peace pipe was always passed
by the host to his vis-a-vis(left-handed neighbor), who puffed it several times
and passed it on to his left. This left pass routine was continued until the
end of the line was reached, at which time the end man either returned the pipe
to the host or sent it back toward the right. No one would take a puff until
the pipe was returned to the