The Blackfoot tribe originated from the Northern Great Plains (e.g. Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan). As a tribe they spoke Algonquian. Today, the Blackfoot Indians that survived the plight of the White Man live on reservations. Approximately 7,000 tribe members live in Montana on a reservation and 8,560 are spread out on three different reservations in Alberta, Canada.1 Today the Blackfoot tribe is faring well and fighting hard to retain their cultural heritage and educate their young. An understanding of who the Blackfoot were, their social structure, and their culture provides evidence of their fight to retain their cultural heritage and educate their young in the ways of their people.
The Blackfoot were similar to other Great Plains Indians. They were introduced to the horse in the mid seventeen hundreds; they were friendly with the first Frenchmen to arrive; their land was devastated by intense trapping of small animals and hunting of buffalo, as were they by smallpox and other illnesses brought overseas by the white man.2 As they were already settled in the west, they weren’t pushed out of their territory in the first stages of settlement. However, the Great Emigration in the 1840s took its toll on the tribe. By the mid to late eighteen hundreds, the U.S. government had already created numerous treaties that moved the Blackfoot tribe to reservations in Montana and Canada, and ravaged the Blackfoot tribe of more than 800,000 acres of land.3 Accordingly, the U.S. government also neglected the newly reserved Blackfoot tribe which led to the “Starvation Winter” where over six hundred Piegans died. Throughout the early nineteen hundreds the Blackfoot population continued to dwindle due to the lack of food, surplus of illness, and the harsh conditions of the Northwestern winters. Not only were the members of the tribe “dropping like flies” so too was their cattle. Over two hundred thousand more acres of land were seized by the U.S. (who officially gained control of the Blackfoot in 1898 due to the Curtis Act4). However, the tribe was awarded citizenship in the nineteen twenties and then in the nineteen thirties Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act5. Finally, the Blackfoot tribe was able to “catch their breath” after all the hardships endured. Starting just before the mid nineteen hundreds, the Blackfoot were drawing up constitutions, eligible for social security, awarded citizenship in Canada (in addition to the U.S.), publishing papers and books etc. In nineteen ninety the Indian Arts and Crafts Act was established to “promote and protect Native cultural development and economics.”6 The Blackfoot tribe took full advantage of the opportunities surrounding them and assimilated to the “white man’s culture” while still teaching their youth about their own special culture and heritage. The Blackfoot are still alive and well today, on reservations, and practicing most of their original beliefs. The current chief of the Blackfoot tribe, Long Standing Bear Chief, conveys that his people do not associate themselves with any known religion or political affiliation of the U.S. or Canada, but continue with their own belief system and their own values. Colleges near the reservations even offer classes in Blackfoot heritage, Algonquian language, and common cultural practices of the Blackfoot tribe such as the Sun Dance and common beliefs7.