Member of an American Indian people who migrated from the Great Lakes north and west into the Saskatchewan River valley, Canada, and Montana, in the early 1700s. Their name derives from their black moccasins. They comprise three sub-tribes: the Peigan (Pikuni), Blood (Kaini), and Siksika (Blackfeet); and speak an Algonquian dialect. Like the Plains Indians, they were skilled buffalo hunters even before they acquired horses and guns in the 18th century, and had a warrior culture. White settlement and the near extinction of the buffalo in the 1880s ended their nomadic lifestyle. Most now farm reservations. They number about 27,100 (2000) in the USA, and 15,000 in Alberta, Canada.
The Blackfeet were renowned for their horse riding skills, and maintained large herds of horses; stealing horses gave a warrior prestige. Buffalo and other big game provided nearly all their basic needs, including food, clothing, and tepee covers. During the winter the Blackfeet dispersed into scattered hunting bands to follow the buffalo herds, but came together in the summer to celebrate the sun dance, their main religious ceremony. Other important rituals included the sweat lodge and buffalo tongue ceremonies. All major ceremonies were presided over by an elderly medicine woman. A fiercely aggressive people, they drove weaker groups from their lands and fought with their neighbours, taking scalps. Their main rivals were the Crow. The Blackfeet had a cohesive political structure, and consultations between the chiefs took place on any matters affecting the Blackfeet as a whole.
The Blackfeet originally hunted buffalo on foot, using bows and arrows, but were introduced to horses by the Shoshone, who attacked them on horseback in 1730. They soon obtained their own horses through trade with the Salish and Nez Percé, and acquired guns in 1780. In 1781 the Blackfeet suffered severely from smallpox, and their numbers dwindled from an estimated 15,000 to about 6,000. However, they continued to control the northern Great Plains and prevented white settlement in their territory until their hold was loosened by another devastating smallpox epidemic in 1837 that killed two thirds of the population. In 1855 their territory was defined by treaty with the US government.
White settlement began in Blackfoot country in 1860, and in 1865 fighting broke out with the settlers. In 1870, 200 Piegan (a sub-tribe of the Blackfeet), including women and children, were killed in the Marias Massacre, an unprovoked attack on a friendly camp by the US army who were hunting a hostile party. By the 1870s commercial buffalo hunting had drastically reduced supplies of the Blackfeet's staple food. Although the 1882 winter buffalo hunt was successful, as prairie fires had driven northern herds into Montana, in the winter of 1883–84 the buffalo suddenly disappeared and over 600 Blackfeet died of starvation. Survivors were forced to give up their hunting lifestyle and take up farming. Between 1907 and 1912 their US reservation lands were divided into allotments, with individuals receiving 140 ha/350 acres. Most Blackfeet now live on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana and Blackfeet reservations in Alberta, Canada.
The Life of the Plains Indians
A Native North American nation of Montana and Alberta. Nomadic hunters, gatherers and traders, they spoke an Algonquian language and called...
Nomadic, warlike Native North American tribes. They consist of three Algonquian-speaking tribes: the Siksika or Blackfeet proper, the Kainah,...
An Algonquian language and confederacy of three North American Indian peoples of the Plains: the Siksikas, Piegans, and Bloods. They were...