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Blackfoot Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people in search of Blackfeet information for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Blackfoot website for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Blackfoot pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages. Photographs are the property of the sources we have credited.





Blackfoot Tribe


      Blackfoot chief        Father and son

Is the name of the tribe "Blackfoot" or "Blackfeet"? Where did this name come from?
"Blackfoot" is the English translation of the word siksika, which means "black foot." It refers to the dark colored moccasins the people wear. Some Blackfoot people are annoyed by the plural "Blackfeet," which is obviously an anglicization. But most Blackfoot people accept both terms. "Blackfoot" is more commonly used in Canada, and "Blackfeet" is more commonly used in the United States.

Where do the Blackfeet Indians live?
The Blackfeet Indians are original residents of the northern Plains, particularly Montana, Idaho, and Alberta, Canada. Most Blackfoot people still live in this region today. Here is a map showing traditional Blackfoot lands and the location of their reservations today.

How is the Blackfeet Indian nation organized?
There are four Blackfoot bands: three in Canada (the Piegan, Kainai, and Siksika First Nations,) and one in the United States (the Blackfeet tribe.) Each Blackfoot tribe or First Nation lives on its own reservation or reserve, which means land that belongs to the tribe and is legally under their control. The four Blackfoot bands are politically independent. Each one has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country.

In the past, the Blackfeet nation was led by a council of chiefs, one from each clan. The Blackfeet people really valued harmony, so every chief had to agree on a decision before action could be taken (this is called consensus). Today, Blackfeet council members are elected like governors or mayors are... but their government still works by consensus.

What is the population of the Blackfoot nation?
Today there are about 25,000 citizens of the four Blackfoot Indian bands. About 10,000 of them live in the United States, and the rest live in Canada. There are also many other people who are Blackfoot descendants but are not tribal members.

What language do the Blackfeet speak?
Most Blackfoot Indians speak English today, but about half of them also speak their native Blackfoot language. Blackfoot is a musical language that has complicated verbs with many parts. Most Blackfoot words are very long and difficult for English speakers to pronounce, but one easy word that you might like to learn is "Oki" (pronounced "oh-kee,") which means "Hello!" You can listen to a Blackfoot woman talk in her language here and read a Blackfoot picture glossary here.

What was Blackfoot culture like in the past? What is it like now?

  Blackfeet flag
Here is the homepage of the Blackfeet Indian tribe of Montana. They have lots of information about Blackfeet history and culture on their site. You can also visit the home page of Blackfoot elder Long Standing Bear Chief. You can find information there about Blackfoot traditions in the past and today. You can read simple articles about the Blackfoot Indians here and here.

How do Blackfoot Indian children live, and what did they do for recreation?

Blackfoot doll
Blackfoot children do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Blackfoot children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys, and special games. Here is a picture of a hoop game popular in the Black feet tribe. Blackfoot mothers, like many Native Americans, carried their babies in cradle boards on their backs--a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

What were Blackfoot men and women's roles?

  Women dragging
        tipi poles
Blackfoot women were in charge of the home. Besides cooking and cleaning, a Blackfoot woman built her family's house and dragged the heavy posts with her whenever the tribe moved. Houses belonged to the women in the Blackfoot tribe. Blackfoot men were hunters and sometimes went to war to defend their families. Most Blackfoot chiefs and warriors were men. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

What were Blackfoot homes like in the past?

   Blackfoot tepees
The Blackfoot lived in buffalo-hide houses called tipis (or teepees). Here are more tipi pictures. Since the Blackfeet moved frequently to follow the buffalo herds, a tipi was carefully designed to set up and break down quickly, like a modern tent. An entire Blackfoot village could be packed up and ready to move within an hour. Today, Native Americans only put up a tepee for fun or to connect with their heritage, not as shelter. Most Blackfoot people live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Blackfoot clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
    
Man's war regalia
Blackfoot women wore long deerskin dresses. Men wore buckskin tunics and breechcloths with leggings. Blackfoot dresses and war shirts were fringed and often decorated with porcupine quills, beads, and elk teeth. Both Blackfeet women and men wore moccasins on their feet and buffalo-hide robes in cold weather. Later, Blackfoot people adopted some European costume such as calico dresses and felt hats. Here are more pictures of Blackfoot clothing, and some photos and links about Indian clothing in general.

Blackfeet chiefs wore tall feather headdresses, different from the long warbonnets of the Sioux. Here are some pictures of these different styles of Native American headdresses. Men wore their hair in three braids with a topknot or high pompadour, and women wore their hair loose or in two thicker braids. Blackfeet people painted their faces for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration.

Today, some Blackfoot people still wear moccasins or a buckskin shirt, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear feathers in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What was Blackfoot transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?

            Dog travois
No--the Blackfoot Indians weren't coastal people, and when they traveled by river, they usually built rafts. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe, so the Blackfeet used to use dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings over land. Once horses were introduced the Blackfoot culture quickly adopted to them and the people became much more migratory.

What was Blackfoot food like in the days before supermarkets?

      Bison hunt
The Blackfoot staple food was buffalo. Blackfoot men usually hunted the buffalo by driving them off cliffs or stalking them with bow and arrow. As they acquired horses, the Blackfoot tribe began to pursue the buffalo herds for communal hunts, moving their villages often as the buffalo migrated. In addition to buffalo meat, the Blackfoot Indians also ate small game like ground squirrels, nuts and berries, and steamed camas roots as part of their diet. Here is a website with more information about Plains Indian foods.

   
 Blackfoot archer
   
What were Blackfoot weapons and tools like in the past?
Blackfoot hunters and warriors fired arrows from powerful long bows or fought with clubs and hide shields. Traditionally most warriors were men, but some Plains Indian women, especially widows, would ride to war with the men. The Blackfoot woman demonstrating a war bow in this picture is a World War II veteran. Here is a website with pictures and more information about Blackfoot Indian weapons.

What are Blackfoot arts and crafts like?
       
 Blackfoot pouch
Blackfoot artists are known for their fine quill embroidery and native beading. Here are some photo galleries of Blackfeet art and artifacts for you to look at.

What other Native Americans did the Blackfeet tribe interact with?
The Blackfeet were far-ranging people, especially once they acquired horses, and so they interacted frequently with all the other tribes of Montana and the Northern Plains, particularly the Gros Ventre, Shoshone, Crow, and Cree. The Blackfeet usually communicated with these tribes using the Plains Indian Sign Language. Sometimes the Blackfeet tribe was friendly with these other tribes, trading goods and intermarrying. Other times they fought wars against each other.

Plains Indian tribes treated war differently than European countries did. They didn't fight over territory but instead to prove their courage, and so Plains Indian war parties rarely fought to the death and almost never destroyed each other's villages. Instead, they preferred to count coup (touch an opponent in battle without harming him), steal an enemy's weapon or horse, or force the other tribe's warriors to retreat. The Europeans who first met them were surprised by how often the Blackfoot tribe fought with their neighbors--even the different Blackfoot bands often fought one another--yet how easily they made peace with each other when they were done fighting.

What kinds of stories do the Blackfeet tell?
There are lots of traditional Blackfoot legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Blackfoot Indian culture. Here is a story about a man who tried to steal the Sun's pants. Here's a website where you can read more about Blackfoot mythology.

Who were some famous Blackfeet Indians?

    Chief Crowfoot
One famous Blackfoot Indian chief was Crowfoot, who led the Blackfoot people in Canada during the second half of the 19th century. Crowfoot was an accomplished warrior and a gifted diplomat. He was most famous for negotiating peace between the Blackfoot Nation and the Canadian government, and for fighting alcoholism among the Blackfoot people. Crowfoot was also the adopted father of the Cree chief Poundmaker, and became close friends with the Sioux leader Sitting Bull. You can read online biographies of Crowfoot here and here.

What about Blackfoot religion?
Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about the role of Blackfoot beliefs or this site about Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy Blackfeet Indian Stories, which is a collection of legends retold by a lifelong friend of the Blackfoot people. Native American Blackfeet Crafts teaches about Blackfoot art forms and even gives some craft ideas you can try yourself. Two good kids' books about Blackfeet culture and history are Blackfoot Children and Elders Talk Together and Story of the Blackfoot People. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended American Indian books in general.

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2013.

Thanks for your interest in the Blackfoot Indian people and their language!

Learn More About The Blackfeet

Blackfoot Indian Tribe
An overview of the Blackfoot Native American tribe.

Blackfoot Language Resources
Blackfoots language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Blackfoot Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Blackfeet Native Americans past and present.

Siksika Words
Blackfeet Indian vocabulary lists.



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