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What is the Blackfeet Tribe?

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  • Written By: S. Ashraf
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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The Blackfeet tribe is a Native American people who are indigenous to the northern plains of the United States. Historians writing in the mid-19th century termed the Blackfeet “the Lords of the Plains” and regarded them as the most powerful of all North American tribes. Originally, the home of the Blackfeet tribe was larger than the entire state of Montana. The tribe now lives within that state on a remote reservation that is approximately the size of Delaware. The reservation is bordered by prairie and wilderness to the south and east, by Canada to the north, and by Glacier Park and the Rockies on the west.

Referring to itself as either “Pikuni” or “Piegan,” the Blackfeet tribe actually is part of the larger Blackfoot Confederacy. The Blackfoot Confederacy encompasses the Blackfeet tribe as well as three other related tribes located just over the U.S. border in the southern Canadian province of Alberta. Collectively, the Blackfoot Confederacy calls itself "Niitsitapi" or “Original People.”

Typical of Native American tribes on the plains, the Blackfeet lived in tepees made from buffalo hides and were nomadic, practicing little agriculture. Built to set up and take apart quickly, an entire village of tepees could be ready to move in an hour. With the introduction of the horse in the early 18th century, the tribe began to move more frequently as it became easier to follow the buffalo herds.

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Family was valued highly by the Blackfeet tribe. Men chose their own wives but, in order to get permission to marry, the male had to prove his skills as a hunter or warrior to the woman’s father. If the father approved, the woman and man exchanged gifts of clothes and horses and were considered married. Gender roles were traditional, with women responsible for the home while men were hunters and warriors.

Above the family, the basic social unit of the Blackfeet tribe was the band, which consisted of about 10 to 30 lodges. The band was residential and not based on kinship. People were able to leave freely and join other bands; consequently, bands frequently broke up and reformed. Each was led by a respected leader, selected by consensus, who lacked the power to coerce his followers.

The Blackfeet view the universe as inhabited by good and evil spirits with “Sun Power” the source of all power. In modern times, they continue the ancient practices of the vision quest and sweat lodge. The sacred Sun Dance, an event lasting eight days, continues to be performed each summer to honor the Creator.

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