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A Rainbow of Spirituality

Blackfoot History

Acknowledged as one of the most powerful tribes in the American northwest, the Blackfeet are a confederacy of three independent tribes presently living in Montana and Alberta, Canada. The name "Blackfeet" originates from the distinctive black hue of their moccasins, either painted that color or perhaps darkened by prairie fires.

Modern scholars believe that the Blackfeet migrated westward over three centuries ago from the northern Great Lakes region; their language belongs to the Algonkian linguistic family (centered in that region) and other aspects of their culture, i.e., utensils, pottery, etc. This westward migration is thought to have been caused by the competitive nature (among Indians in the region) of supplying French traders with sufficient animal furs and pelts.

The Blackfeet quickly assimilated in to a nomadic type of existence in the northern plains; plentiful buffalo assured them of a strong future. A shaman or medicine man aided the hunt through the powerful use of the talisman to help lure the buffalo to the fall.

By the early 1700's, extensive trade was going on with the Midwest and east coast settlers. Buffalo hides were traded for many different items, not the least of which were horses and guns. These two items radically changed the nature of the buffalo hunt; thus there was more time to develop more ornate cultural items, rituals, and myths to tell their stories and educate their young people.

The most sacred yearly event was the sun dance, or Medicine Lodge Ceremony. As a communal event, the Blackfeet and other Plains tribes would gather in mid-summer to fulfill vows to assure the well-being of the community through the continued abundance of the buffalo.

This time of prosperity and growth was soon cut short by the invasion of white settlers into Indian territory.

Undoubtedly, the greatest devastation to the Indian people was the near extinction of the buffalo by the white settlers. Their main food source gone and not having yet taken up the concept of farming, the Blackfeet were forced with total dependence upon the Indian Agency for food. The winter of 1884 was a cruel one; over 600 Indians starved to death reducing the tribe to some 1,400 people.

To help the tribe live in the white man's world, the government and religious organizations setup schools and other programs to educate the Blackfeet children and help create jobs on the reservation. The aim of these ventures was to educate the Blackfeet people so that the can have their own governance and self-determination.

Many of the Blackfeet have served with honor and distinctions in the armed services; their example and leadership have been example to younger generations here on the reservation.

Of an estimated 14,000 Blackfeet in the world today, approximately 8,500 live on the reservation. The town of Browning is the seat of the tribal government as well as the site of the annual North American Indian Days celebration in mid-Jul.
 

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