(Hello, greetings my relative)
“literally means “Black Foot”. Siksika is the name for the Blackfoot Nation,
which includes the Piikani (Piegan) and the Kainai (Blood) Tribes”.
“Give wisdom and understanding to my leaders.
Protect my warriors and bring them back safe.
Give to the young, love and contentment.
Give health and long life to my old people
so that they may remain with us for a long time.
Make my enemy brave and strong,
so that if defeated, I will not be ashamed.
And give me wisdom so that I may have kindness for all.
And let me live each day, so when day is done,
my prayer will not have been in vain.”
Big Lodge Pole, Blackfoot
The Blackfoot Indians of the United States and Canada are divided into three main groups: the Northern Blackfoot or Siksika, the Kainah or Blood, and the Piegan. The three as a whole are also referred to as the Siksika (translated Blackfoot), a term which probably derived from the discoloration of moccasins with ashes. The three groups constitute what are apparently geographical-linguistic groups. All three speak a language which is a part of the Algonquian family. The Piegan and Blood are the most closely related dialects.
Before the Blackfoot were placed on reservations in the latter half of the nineteenth century, they occupied a large territory which stretched from the North Saskatchewan River in Canada to the Missouri River in Montana, and from long. 105 degrees West to the base of the Rocky Mountains. The Piegan were located toward the western part of this territory, in the mountainous country. The Blood were located to the northeast of the Piegan, and the Northern Blackfoot were northeast of the Blood.
The Blackfoot were placed on four reservations. The Blackfeet Agency, the Blood Agency, and the Piegan Agency are all located in Alberta, Canada. The Blackfeet Reservation in Montana is inhabited by Piegans. (References to Northern Piegan indicate the Canadian Piegan, while references to the Southern Piegan indicate the Montana Piegan.) (Blackfoot is the correct name – white man thought it should be ‘plural’ and changed to Blackfeet)
The Blackfoot are typical of the Plains Indians in many aspects of their culture. They were/are nomadic hunter-gatherers, who live in tipis. They once subsisted mainly on buffalo and large mammals and, in addition, gathered a lot of vegetable foods. Traditions indicate that the buffalo were/are hunted in drives, although hunting patterns changed when horses and guns were introduced. Deer and smaller game were/are caught with snares. Fish, although abundant, were eaten only in times of dire necessity and after the disappearance of the buffalo.
During the summer, the Blackfoot lived in large tribal camps. It was during this season that they conducted Buffalo Hunts in times gone by, and the Sun Dance ceremonies are held in summer. During the winter, they separated into bands of from approximately 10 to 20 lodges. Band membership is quite fluid. There might be several headmen in each band, and one of them is considered the chief. Headmanship is very informal. The qualifications for the office were once “wealth” and success in war, as well as ceremonial experience.
The religious life of the Blackfoot centers upon medicine bundles and their associated rituals. These bundles are individually owned and ultimately originated from an encounter with a supernatural spirit. These encounters take the form of dreams or visions, which are sought in a typical Plains type of vision quest. A young man, usually under the tutelage of an older medicine man, goes out to an isolated place and prays and fasts until he has a vision. Many of these men fail and never have a vision.
Individual bundles acquire great respect. Some of these are headdresses, shirts, shields, knives, and “medicine objects”. Painted lodges are considered to be medicine bundles, and there are more than 50 of them among the three main Blackfoot groups. The most important bundles to the group as a whole are the Beaver Bundles, the Medicine Pipe Bundles, and the Sun Dance Bundle.
The Sun Dance among the Blackfoot is generally similar to the ceremony that is performed in other Plains societies. There are some differences, in that a woman plays the leading role among the Blackfoot, and the symbolism and paraphernalia used are derived from beaver bundle ceremonialism. The Blackfoot Sun Dance includes the following: (1) moving the camp on four successive days; (2) on the fifth day, building the medicine lodge, transferring bundles to the medicine woman, and the offering of gifts by children and adults in ill health; (3) on the sixth day, dancing toward the sun, blowing eagle-bone whistles, and self-torture; and (4) on the remaining four days, performing various ceremonies of the men’s societies.
Adventures of Bull Turns Round
Adventures of Old Man Coyote
Bear-Moccasin, the Great Medicine-Man
Black and Yellow Buffalo-Painted Lodges
Camp of the Ghosts
Contest Between the Thunder-Bird and the Raven
Coyote and the Rolling Rock
Crow Indian Water-Medicine
Daily Life and Customs
Deeds and Prophecies of Old Man
Old Man came from the south, travelling north. As he moved along he made the mountains, plains, timber and brush, putting rivers here and there, fixing up the world as we see it today. Old Man covered the plains with grass for the animals to feed upon. He marked off certain pieces of ground, and made all kinds of roots and berries grow in the earth–wild carrots, wild turnips, service berries, bull berries, cherries, plums and rosebuds. He put trees in the ground.
After Old Man made the Porcupine Hills, he took some mud and shaped it into human forms. He blew breath upon them and they became people. He made men and women, and named them Siksika, or Blackfeet. They asked him: “What are we to eat?” He replied by making more images of clay in the forms of buffalo. Then he blew breath on these and they stood up, and when he made signs to them, they started to run. “These are your food,” Old Man said to the Siksika.
After he had made the buffalo, Old Man went out on the plains and made the big horn, a sheep with a big head and horns. Because it was awkward and could not move fast, the big horn did not travel easily on the level prairies. And so Old Man took it by one of its horns and led it up into the mountains and turned it loose. There it skipped about among the rocks and went up high places with ease. “This is the place that suits you,” Old Man said. “This is what you are fitted for, the rocks and the mountains.”
While he was in the mountains, Old Man made the antelope and turned it loose, but the antelope ran so fast that it fell over some steep rocks and hurt itself. He saw that this would not do, so he carried the antelope down on to the plains where he turned it loose. It ran away swiftly and gracefully, and Old Man said: “This is what you are suited for.”
One day Old Man decided to make a woman and a child. He went to a river-bank, took some wet clay, and moulded it into human shapes. Then he covered them up with straw. The next morning he took the covering off and told the images to rise and walk, and they did so, following him down to the river. “I am Napi,” he told them. “Old Man, the maker of all things.”
As they were standing by the river, the woman said to him: “How is it? Will we always live? Will there be no end to it?”
“I have never thought of that,” Old Man replied. “We will have to decide it.” He picked up a buffalo chip and threw it in the river. “If the buffalo chip floats,” he said, “when people die, they will come back to life again after four days. But if it sinks, when they die that will be an end to them.” When he threw the chip in the river, it floated.
The woman did not like the thought of dying, even for only four days. “No, we should not decide it that way,” she said. She picked up a stone. “If the stone floats, we will always live,” she said. “If it sinks, people will die forever.” She threw the stone into the river and it sank to the bottom.
“There,” said the woman. “Perhaps it is better for people to die forever. Otherwise they would never feel sorry for each other and there would be no sympathy in the world.”
“Well,” said Old Man. “You have chosen. Let it be that way. Let that be the law.”
Not long afterwards, the woman’s child died, and she went to Old Man, pleading with him to change the law about people dying. “You first said that people who die will come back after four days,” she said. “Let that be the law.”
“Not so,” Old Man replied. “What is made law must be law. We will undo nothing that we have done. The child is dead, and it cannot be changed. People will have to die.”
About this time many of the Siksika people that Old Man had made came to him with complaints that they did not know how to hunt the buffalo and obtain meat. Instead, the buffalo were hunting them, they said, running after them and killing some people.
“I will make you a weapon that will kill these animals,” Old Man promised. He went out and cut some serviceberry shoots and brought them in and peeled the bark off them. He then caught a bird and took some feathers from its wing. After tying these feathers to one of the serviceberry shoots, he broke a black flintstone into pieces and fastened a sharp flint point to one of the shoot ends and named it an arrow. Then he took a large piece of wood, shaped it, strung it, and named it a bow.
While the people watched, he showed them how to use bows and arrows. “Next time you hunt buffalo,” he said, “take these things with you and use them as I have instructed you. Do not run from the buffalo. When they run at you, wait until they are close enough and shoot them with arrows.”
After the people had learned to kill buffalo, Old Man showed them how to take the skins from them to make robes. He showed them how to set up poles and fasten the skins on them to make tepees to sleep under.
One day Old Man told the Siksika that it was time for him to move on north to make more land and more people. “I have marked off this land for you,” he said. “The Porcupine Hills, Cypress Mountains, and Little Rocky Mountains, down to the mouth of the Yellowstone on the Missouri, and then toward the setting sun to the head of the Yellowstone and the tops of the Rocky Mountains. There is your land, and it is full of all kinds of animals, and many things grow in this land. Let no other people come into this land, or trouble will come to you. This land is for the five tribes, the Blackfeet, Bloods, Piegans, Gros Ventres and Sarcees. If other people try to cross the line, take your bows and arrows and give them battle and keep them out. If you let them come and make camp, you will lose everything.”
For many moons the five tribes gave battle to all other people who tried to cross the line made by Old Man, and kept them out. But after a while some bearded men with light skins came, bringing presents. They said they wanted to stay only a little while to trap animals for their furs. The five tribes let them make camp, and as Old Man had prophesied, the tribes soon lost everything.
One summer while the Blackfeet were camped on Old Man’s River, a chief named Heavy Collar chose seven young warriors to go with him on a buffalo hunt. They travelled around the Cypress Mountains, but found no buffalo and started back toward their camp. On the way Heavy Collar took the lead, for they had found signs of large enemy war parties and he wanted to keep his small group moving in the concealment of coulees and other low places as much as possible.
One afternoon as Heavy Collar was leading the way up a wide river, he sighted three old buffalo bulls lying close to a steep bank. He ran along at a fast trot, circling through a dry gulch so as to come close to the buffalo. He killed one with an arrow and butchered it. As he was hungry, he took a piece of meat down into the gulch and built a smokeless fire to roast it. Before his seven young warriors could find him, night came on very rapidly. “Perhaps I should have waited for my young men,” he said aloud, “but I feared the buffalo would run away. Before it is completely dark I should climb up on the bank and try to signal them. I could also get some hair from that buffalo’s head and wipe out my gun.”
While he sat there thinking of these things and talking to himself, a ball of buffalo hair came floating to him through the air, falling on the ground right in front of him. when this happened, it startled him a little because he thought enemies might have trapped him alone and thrown the ball of hair at him. After a while he picked up the hair and cleaned his gun with it. He reloaded the weapon and then sat watching and listening as darkness deepened. He was very uneasy and decided to go farther up the riverbank to scout out the country. When he came to the mouth of St. Mary’s River, it was very late in the night. He was so tired that he crept into a patch of high rye-grass to hide and sleep.
Now Heavy Collar did not know that he had come to a camp ground where another tribe of Indians had lived the summer before. Those Indians had been surprised by a war party. A woman had been killed during the fight, and her body was left behind in the very patch of rye-grass where Heavy Collar had lain down to rest. Although he was very tired, Heavy Collar could not sleep. He thought that he could hear sounds of movement, but what it was he could not make out. Every time he dozed off he thought he heard something nearby. He spent the night there, and as soon as daylight came he saw a skeleton lying close beside him. It was the skeleton of the woman who had been killed the previous summer.
Troubled by fears, Heavy Collar started on to the buttes beyond Belly River, a hilly place where he and his warriors had arranged to meet in case any of them became separated from the others. All day he kept thinking about his having slept beside an unknown woman’s bones, and this made him more and more uneasy. He could not put it out of his mind. By day’s end he was very tired because he had slept so little during the night. About sundown he crossed the river shallows to an island and decided to camp there for the night.
At the upper end of the island he found a fallen tree that had drifted downstream and lodged there. Using the tree fork as a wind shelter, he built a fire, and then sat on one of the limbs with his back to the blaze, warming himself. All the time he kept thinking about the skeleton he had slept beside the previous night. As he sat there, he heard a sudden sound behind him, a sound of something being dragged across the ground toward the fire. It was like the sound of a tepee cover being pulled across the grass. It came closer and closer.
Heavy Collar was more frightened than he had been in a long time. He was so afraid that he could not turn his head to look back and see what was making elk noise. The dragging sound seemed to come up to the fallen tree where his fire was burning. Then it stopped, and suddenly he heard someone whistling a tune.
He turned around then and looked toward the sound, and there, sitting on the other fork of the tree, facing him, was the same skeleton beside which he had slept the night before. This ghost was now wearing a piece of old tepee cover. The tepee cover had a lodge pole string tied to it, and this string was fastened about the ghost’s neck. The wings of the tepee cover appeared to stretch out and fade away into the darkness. The ghost began whistling a tune, and as it whistled, it swung its legs to the tune.
When Heavy Collar saw this strange sight, his heart almost stopped beating. Finally he gathered enough courage to speak: “Oh ghost, go away and do not trouble me. I am very tired. I want to rest and sleep.”
But his words only made the ghost whistle louder, and swing its legs more violently. The skull turned from side to side, sometimes looking down upon him, sometimes looking at the stars in the sky, but always whistling.
When Heavy Collar saw that the ghost was paying no heed to his pleas, he grew angry and said: “Well, ghost, you do not take pity upon me, and so I shall have to shoot you and drive you away.” He picked up his gun and fired point-blank at the ghost. It fell over backward into the darkness, crying out: “You have shot me, Heavy Collar, you have killed me! You are no better than a dog, Heavy Collar. I curse you. There is no place on earth you can go that I will not find you, no place you can hide that I will not come.”
At this, Heavy Collar jumped to his feet and ran away as fast as he could. Behind him he could hear the voice of the ghost calling in the night: “I have been killed once, Heavy Collar, and now you are trying to kill me again.” The words followed him until at last they died away in the distance. He ran and ran through the darkness, and whenever he stopped to catch his breath he could hear far away the sound of his name being repeated again and again in a mournful voice. He was very sleepy, but dared not lie down, for he remembered the ghost’s threat to follow him wherever he went. At first daylight he sat down to rest, and at once fell asleep.
In the meantime Heavy Collar’s party of seven young warriors had gone on to the rendezvous point in the buttes beyond Belly River to await their leader’s arrival. On that morning one of the young men, who was posted on a high hill to watch for Heavy Collar, saw two persons approaching. As they came nearer, the warrior saw that one of them was Heavy Collar. The other was a woman. The watcher called out to the others in the party: “Here comes our chief! He is bringing a woman with him.” They all laughed, and joked about how they would take her away from him.
When the two persons reached the top of a level ridge, Heavy Collar began walking very fast. The woman would walk by his side for a few steps; then she would fall behind and would have to trot along to catch up with him again. Immediately in front of the young warriors’ camp was a deep coulee through which the chief and the woman had to cross. The warriors saw them go down into the coulee side by side, but when Heavy Collar walked out of it, he was alone. He shouted a greeting to the young men, and strode on into their camp.
“Heavy Collar,” one of them called out, “where is your woman?”
The chief frowned at them for a moment. “I have no woman,” he said. They laughed at him then, and he added: “I don’t understand what you’re talking about.”
One of them said: “Our chief must have hidden her in that coulee.”
Another asked: “Where did you capture her, and of what tribe is she?”
Heavy Collar looked from one young man to another, and said: “I think you are all crazy. I have captured no woman. What do you mean?”
One warrior replied: “Why, we all saw you walking with that woman when you went down into the coulee. Where did she come from, and where did you leave her? Is she down in the coulee? We saw her and it’s no use to deny that she was with you.
By this time Heavy Collar knew that the woman they had seen must have been the ghost that had been following him. He sat down and told them what had happened the previous night. Some of the warriors refused to believe him. They ran down to the coulee where they had last seen the woman, and although they found the prints of Heavy Collar’s moccasins, there were no other tracks near his.
Now they believed that the woman was indeed a ghost, but there was no sign of her that night. The next morning they started on the return journey to the Blackfoot camp on Old Man’s River. Darkness had fallen before they reached the camp, and their friends and relatives invited them to feast with them.
After the celebration, Heavy Collar sat for a while in front of his tepee enjoying the peaceful moonlit night. Suddenly a noise sounded in the brush, and he was relieved to see that it was only a bear coming out of the woods. He felt around for a stone to throw at the bear to frighten it away. Finding a piece of bone, he threw it at the bear, hitting it a sharp blow.
“Well, well, well, Heavy Collar,” said the bear. “You have killed me once, and now you are hitting me. I told you there was no place in the world where you can hide from me. I don’t care where you may go, I will always find you.”
Knowing that this was the ghost woman who had taken the shape of a bear, Heavy Collar ran for his tepee entrance, shouting as loud as he could: “Run, run! A ghost bear is upon us!”
Everyone in camp came running toward Heavy Collar’s tepee, and in a few minutes it was crowded with people. A big fire was burning below the smoke-hole, and a hard wind from the west was shaking the tepee. Men, women, and children huddled together in fear of the ghost they had been told about. Outside they could hear the ghost’s footsteps walking toward the lodge. “These people are no better than dogs,” the ghost cried. “I will kill them all. Not one of them shall escape.” The sounds kept coming closer and closer until they seemed to be right outside the closed entrance. Then the ghost said: “I will smoke you to death.” As it said this, it moved the poles so that the wings of the tepee turned toward the west and the wind could blow in freely through the smoke-hole.
As the tepee began to fill with smoke, the ghost continued making terrible threats. Children began crying, and everyone was weeping and coughing from the suffocating smoke.
“Let’s lift a man up to fix the tepee ears,” Heavy Collar said, “so my lodge will get clear of smoke.” They raised a man on their shoulders, but he was so blinded and strangled by the smoke that he had difficulty in turning the wings. While he was doing this, the ghost suddenly struck the tepee a hard blow, frightening those who were holding the man on their shoulders so that they let him fall down. “It’s no use,” said Heavy Collar. “That ghost woman is determined to smoke us to death.” By this time the smoke was so thick in the tepee that they could barely see each other.
“Is there no one here who has strong enough power to overcome this ghost?” Heavy Collar called out in desperation.
“I am the oldest of the tribe,” his mother replied. “I will try.” She quickly found her medicine bundle and painted herself. Then she lighted her dead husband’s pipe and thrust the stem out through a crack in the entrance cover. “Oh, ghost,” she said in a quavering voice, “smoke this pipe and go away.”
“No, no, no,” the ghost answered. “You people are dogs. I will not listen to you. Every one of you must die.”
“Ghost, take pity upon us,” the old woman repeated. “Smoke this pipe and go away in peace.”
Then the ghost said: “How can you expect me to smoke when I am outside the tepee. Bring the pipe to me. I have no long bill like a bird with which to reach the stem.”
The old woman lifted the entrance cover and stepped outside. With her feeble hand she extended the pipe toward the sound of the ghost’s voice.
“Bring the pipe closer,” the ghost commanded. “If you want me to smoke it, you must bring it to me.”
Again the old woman went toward the ghost, Which backed away, saying angrily: “No, I don’t wish to smoke that kind of pipe.” As it spoke, the ghost moved farther away and the old woman felt herself being pulled after it by some powerful force. She cried out in fear: “Oh, my children, the ghost is carrying me off!”
As Heavy Collar rushed to help her, he called to the others: “Come and help me save my mother from the ghost.” He grasped his mother by the waist and held her until another man caught him by the waist. All the others then came out of the tepee until they were in a long line, pulling on each other with all their might. No matter how hard they pulled, however, the ghost drew them slowly towards it.
And then all of a sudden the old woman turned loose the pipe and fell down dead upon the ground. At the same instant the ghost disappeared. After that, Heavy Collar was never troubled by the ghost woman. Nor was the pipe ever seen again.
A long time ago a warrior of the Piegan Blackfoot dreamed about a lake far away where some large animals lived. A voice in the dream told him the animals were harmless, and that he could use them for dragging travois and carrying packs in the same way the Indians then used dogs. “Go to this lake,” the dream voice told him, “and take a rope with you so that you can catch these animals.”
When the Piegan awoke he took a long rope made from strips of a bull buffalo’s hide and travelled many miles on foot to the shore of the lake. He dug a hole in the sandy beach and concealed himself there. While he watched, he saw many animals come down to the lake to drink. Deer, coyotes, elk and buffalo all came to quench their thirsts.
After a while the wind began to blow. Waves rose upon the lake and began to roll and hiss along the beach. At last a herd of large animals, unlike any the Piegan had ever seen before, suddenly appeared before him. They were as large as elks, and had small ears and long tails hanging to the ground. Some were white, and some black, and some red and spotted. The young ones were smaller. When they reached the water’s edge and bent their heads to drink, the voice the man had heard in his dream whispered to him: “Throw your rope and catch one.”
And so the Piegan threw his rope and caught one of the largest of the animals. It struggled and pulled and dragged the man about, and he was not strong enough to hold the animal. Finally it pulled the rope out of his hands, and the whole herd ran into the lake and sank out of sight beneath the water.
Feeling very sad, the Piegan returned to camp. He went into his lodge and prayed for help to the voice he had heard in his dream. The voice answered him: “Four times you may try to catch these animals. If in four times trying you do not catch them, you will never see them again.”
Before he went to sleep that night the Piegan asked Old Man to help him, and while he slept Old Man told him that he was not strong enough to catch one of the big animals. “Try to catch one of the young animals,” Old Man said, “and then you can hold it.”
Next morning the Piegan went again to the shores of the big lake, and again he dug a hole in the sand and lay hidden there while the deer, the coyotes, the elk and the buffalo came to drink. At last the wind began to rise and the waves rolled and hissed upon the beach. Then came the herd of strange animals to drink at the lake, and again the man threw his rope. This time he caught one of the young animals and was able to hold it.
One by one he caught all the young animals out of the herd and led them back to the Piegan camp. After they had been there a little while, the mares–the mothers of these colts–came trotting into the camp. Their udders were filled with milk for the colts to drink. Soon after the mares came, the stallions of the herd followed them into the camp.
At first the Piegans were afraid of these new animals and would not go near them, but the warrior who had caught them told everybody that they would not harm them. After a while the animals became so tame that they followed the people whenever they moved their camp from place to place. Then the Piegans began to put packs on them, and they called this animal po-no-kah-mita, or elk dog, because they were big and shaped like an elk and could carry a pack like a dog.
That is how the Piegan Blackfoot got their horses.
How Medicine-Hat Got Its Name
How men and women got together
How the Blackfoot got the Buffalo Jump (Piskun)
How the Blackfoot Obtained the Spotted Horses
How the Ducks Got Their Fine Feathers
How the Great Holy Being Honored Beloved Meadow Lark/a>
How the Man Found His Mate
How the Old Man Made People
How The Otter Skin Became Great Medicine
How the Worm Pipe Came to the Blackfoot
Iktomi and the Turtle
Kip a ta ki (Old Woman)
Languages Confused on a Mountain
Legend of the Beginning
Little Friend Coyote
Making of the Earth
Meal for Nata’Yowa
Old Man and the Beginning of the World
Old Man and the Great Spirit
Old Man and the Roasted Squirrels
Old Man Leads a Migration
Order of Life and Death
Origin of the Sweat Lodge
The Piegan tribe was southernmost at the headwaters of the Missouri River in Montana, a subtribe belonging to the Siksika Indians of North Saskatchewan in Canada. Piegans were of the Algonquian linguistic family, but warlike toward most of their neighbouring tribes, since they had horses for raiding and were supplied with guns and ammunition by their Canadian sources. Piegans also displayed hostility toward explorers and traders. Several smallpox epidemics decimated their population. Now they are gathered on reservationson both sides of the border.
A girl of great beauty, the Chief’s daughter, was worshipped by many young handsome men of the Piegan tribe. But she would not have any one of them for her husband.
One young tribesman was very poor and his face was marked with an ugly scar. Although he saw rich and handsome men of his tribe rejected by the Chief’s daughter, he decided to find out if she would have him for her husband. When she laughed at him for even asking, he ran away toward the south in shame.
After travelling several days, he dropped to the ground, weary and hungry, and fell asleep. From the heavens, Morning-Star looked down and pitied the young unfortunate youth, knowing his trouble.
To Sun and Moon, his parents, Morning-Star said, “There is a poor young man lying on the ground with no one to help him. I want to go after him for a companion.”
“Go and get him,” said his parents.
Morning-Star carried the young man, Scarface, into the sky. Sun said, “Do not bring him into my lodge yet, for he smells ill. Build four sweat lodges.”
When this was done, Sun led Scarface into the first sweat lodge. He asked Morning-Star to bring a hot coal on a forked stick. Sun then broke off a bit of sweet grass and placed it upon the hot coal. As the incense arose Sun began to sing, “Old Man is coming in with his body; it is sacred,” repeating it four times.
Sun passed his hands back and forth through the smoke and rubbed them over the face, left arm, and side of Scarface. Sun repeated the ceremony on the boy’s right side, purifying him and removing the odours of earthly people.
Sun took Scarface into the other three sweat lodges, performing the same healing ceremony. The body of Scarface changed color and he shone like a yellow light.
Using a soft feather, Sun brushed it over the youth’s face, magically wiping away the scar. With a final touch to the young man’s long, yellow hair, Sun caused him to look exactly like Morning-Star. The two young men were led by Sun into his own lodge and placed side by side in the position of honour.
“Old Woman,” called the father. “Which is your son?”
Moon pointed to Scarface, “That one is our son.”
“You do not know your own child,” answered Sun.
“He is not our son. We will call him Mistaken-for-Morning-Star,” as they all laughed heartily at the mistake.
The two boys were together constantly and became close companions. One day, they were on an adventure when Morning-Star pointed out some large birds with very long, sharp beaks.
“Foster-Brother, I warn you not to go near those dangerous creatures,” said Morning-Star. “They killed my other brothers with their beaks.”
Suddenly the birds chased the two boys. Morning-Star fled toward his home, but Foster-Brother stopped, picking up a club and one by one struck the birds dead.
Upon reaching home, Morning-Star excitedly reported to his father what had happened. Sun made a victory song honouring the young hero. In gratitude for saving Morning-Star’s life, Sun gave him the forked stick for lifting hot embers and a braid of sweet grass to make incense. These sacred elements necessary for making the sweat lodge ceremony were a gift of trust.
“And this my sweat lodge I give to you,” said the Sun. Mistaken- for-Morning-Star observed very carefully how it was constructed, in his mind preparing himself to one day returning to earth.
When Scarface did arrive at his tribal village, all of his people gathered to see the handsome young man in their midst. At first, they did not recognize him as Scarface.
“I have been in the sky,” he told them. “Behold me, Morning-Star looks just like this. The Sun gave me these things used in the sweat lodge healing ceremony. That is how I lost my ugly scar.”
Scarface explained how the forked stick and sweet grass were used. Then he set to work showing his people how to make the sweat lodge. This is how the first medicine sweat lodge was built upon earth by the Piegan tribe.
Now that Scarface was so very handsome and brought such a great blessing of healing to his tribe, the Chief’s beautiful daughter became his wife.
In remembrance of Sun’s gift to Scarface and his tribe, the Piegans always make the sweat lodge healing ceremony an important part of their annual Sun Dance Celebration.
In the days before horses a poor orphan boy lived among the Blackfoot. Because he was so poor he knew that he could never obtain the things he wanted without the secret power of the gods. One day he left his camp to seek a vision that would tell him what he must do. He slept alone on a high mountain, he prayed near some great rocks, he fasted beside a river, but no vision came to him, no voice spoke to him. He travelled beyond the Sweetgrass Hills to a large lake, and because no sign of any kind had come to him he bowed down and wept.
In that lake lived a powerful Water Spirit, a very old man, and he heard the crying of the poor orphan boy. The Water Spirit sent his young son to find the boy and ask why he was crying. The son went to the weeping boy and told him that his father who lived in the lake wished to see him.
“But how can I go to him if he lives under the lake?” the poor boy asked.
“Hold on to my shoulders and close your eyes,” replied the Water Spirit’s son. “Don’t look until I tell you to do so.”
They started into the water. As they moved along, the Water Spirit’s son said to the boy: “My father will offer you your choice of the animals in this lake. When he does so, be sure to choose the oldest mallard of the ducks and all its young ones.”
As soon as they reached the underwater lodge of the Water Spirit, the son told the boy to open his eyes. He did so, and found himself standing before an old man with long white hair. “Sit beside me,” the Water Spirit said, and then asked: “My boy, why do you come to this lake crying?”
“I am a poor orphan,” the boy replied. “I left my camp to search for secret powers so that I may be able to make my way in the world.”
“Perhaps I can help you,” the Water Spirit said. “You have seen all the animals in this lake. They are mine to give to whom I wish. What is your choice?”
Remembering the advice of the Water Spirit’s son, the boy replied: “I should thank you for the oldest mallard of the ducks and all its young ones.”
“Don’t take that one,” the Water Spirit said, shaking his head. “It is old and of no value.”
But the boy insisted. Four times he asked for the mallard, and then the Water Spirit smiled and said: “You are a wise young man. When you leave my lodge my son will take you to the edge of the lake. After it is dark he will catch the mallard for you. But when you leave the lake don’t look back.”
The boy did as he was told. The Water Spirit’s son gathered some marsh grass from the edge of the lake and braided it into a rope. With this rope he caught the old mallard and led it ashore. He placed the rope in the boy’s hand and told him to walk on, but not to look back until sunrise. As the boy walked on toward his camp in the darkness, he heard the duck’s feathers flapping on the ground. Later he could no longer hear that sound. Instead he heard the sound of heavy feet pounding on the earth behind him, and from time to time the strange cry of an animal. The braided marsh grass turned into a rawhide rope in his hand. But he did not look back until dawn.
At daybreak he turned around and saw a strange animal at the end of the rope, a horse. A voice told him to mount the animal and he did so, using the rawhide rope as a bridle. By the time he reached camp, he saw many other horses following him.
The people of the camp were frightened by these strange animals, but the boy told them to have no fear. He dismounted and gave everybody horses from the herd that had followed him. There were plenty for everyone, and he had a large number left over for himself.
Until that time, the people had only dogs for carrying their packs and dragging their travois. The boy now showed them how to use the horses for packing, how to break them for riding, and he also gave the horse its Blackfoot name, elk dog. One day the men asked him: “These elk dogs, would they be of any use in hunting buffalo?”
“Yes, let me show you,” the boy replied, and as soon as they were mounted he led them out to a buffalo herd where he showed them how to chase buffalo on horseback. He also showed them how to make bridles, saddles, hackamores, whips and other gear for their horses. Once when they came to a river, the men asked him: “These elk dogs, are they of any use to us in water?”
He replied: “That is where they are best. I got them from the water.” And he showed them how to use horses in crossing streams.
When the boy grew older, his people made him a chief, and since that time every Blackfoot chief has owned many horses.
The Horse in Blackfoot Indian Culture
Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin
Why People Die Forever
Why the birch-tree wears the slashes in its bark
Why the Chipmunk’s Back is Striped
Why The Curlew’s Bill is Long and Crooked
Why the Mountain Lion is Long and Lean
Why the Nighthawk’s Wings are Beautiful
Wise Man of Chief Mountain
Chief of the Mountains is grim, rugged, and majestic. Indeed, these are very good reasons for the Blackfeet Indians to have named the awesome peak, Chief Mountain. It is located in Montana, in the northeastern corner of Glacier National Park.
Tribal historian Yellow Wolfe of the Blackfeet tribe always enjoyed telling the following story about Chief Mountain and the people who once lived in its shadow.
Two members of the Blackfeet tribe were Wise Man and his wife. Their people called him Wise Man because he always seemed to know how to do everything right.
At that time, the Blackfeet wore the plainest kinds of clothes. Wise Man thought about this for a long time. One day he said to his wife, “Let us go away for a while. I wish to make some things that I have been planning for a long time.”
Wise Man and his wife packed their travois, which was drawn by dogs, and moved to the base of the Inside Lakes. There they made their camp. He hunted and killed enough game for him and his wife and their dogs before beginning work on his plan.
First, he climbed to the high ridge between the lakes and Little River, where he dug an eagle trap. Beside the pit, he laid a deer and slashed its body to attract an eagle. When all was ready, Wise Man jumped into the pit and covered it with willow sticks and grass to make a blind. He waited for an eagle to come. Several eagles, with their wings swishing the air, sailed down upon the deer.
While the eagles ate at the deer, Wise Man reached up cautiously, snatched the legs of an eagle, and pulled it down into the pit. By repeating this method, he caught a large number of eagles. These he tied together, dragging them to his camp. There, he removed their tail feathers, their fluffy plume feathers, and other useful feathers that would help his plan.
As winter arrived, weasels appeared, and Wise Man hunted them This was more difficult than trapping eagles but he set many snares and caught about a hundred weasels.
Wise Man made himself an eagle headdress and hung white weasel fur skins upon it. Along the seams of his shirt sleeves and leggings, he hung more weasel skins. Adorned with his newly decorated clothes, he presented himself to his wife.
“Oh, you look brave and handsome!” she said. “Your new clothes with feathers and furs are the most beautiful ones I have ever seen!”
“I’m glad you like them,” he replied. “Now I want to make something special for you.”
Wise Man put away his new clothes, and dressed for hunting. He started out to look for elk. From these animals, he collected the skins, tusks, and teeth. He sewed them in decorative rows on the front and back of his wife’s new dress. Both of them thought it most attractive.
“Now we have a fine new appearance,” she said. “Shall we go home to Chief Mountain and show our people what you have accomplished?”
“Not yet,” answered Wise Man. “Something is lacking, and I must discover what it is. I shall ask the Great Spirit to show me what more I must do.”
On the very next day, when Wise Man walked through the timber, he found a dead porcupine. Its quills were scattered around on the ground. He examined them, thinking how he could dye the quills different colours. If he could, his wife’s new dress would be even more beautiful, he thought. He shot another porcupine for its quills, and carried the animal home to cook.
“I know the yellow moss growing on pine trees will stain anything yellow,” his wife suggested. “The color will not fade or wash off. I’m sure you can find other dyes for different colours, too.”
He found green in another wood, and red in the juice of a certain plant. So Wise Man dyed the quills three colours–yellow, green, and red. He flattened the quills somewhat and sewed them side by side on the leather clothes, making different designs. He took a long time with his work. Finally, he had enough for his shirt and leggings, as well as for the neck the front, and the back of his wife’s new dress.
Each of them were so pleased with the colourful and charming appearance of the other that they hugged and danced together for joy.
At last, Wise Man felt satisfied with the way his plan had developed. They broke camp and started home to their people near Chief Mountain. When they came within sight of their tribe, they put on their newly decorated clothes.
When their friends saw them approaching they did not at first believe they were Wise Man and his wife. But when they came closer, their people recognized them. All of the tribe crowded about Wise Man and his wife, staring, touching, and asking many questions about how their clothes were made.
Wise Man showed all of the people at Chief Mountain how he created the new ornaments. Immediately, the people began to gather the materials to make decorated clothes for themselves.
Since that time, the Blackfeet Indians have become very well known for their handsome and colourful dress. Wise Man became a strong leader in his tribe. He was acclaimed for discovering how to make everything more beautiful. This is why his people loved him and always called him Chief Wise Man of the Blackfeet tribe.
The Buffalo Dance – One of the primary sources of food and other needs was the American Bison. The typical hunting method was drive a herd off a cliff and butcher them after they died at the bottom of the cliff. Similar methods were used in ancient Europe.The night before, the shaman ceremonially smokes tobacco and prays to the sun. His wives are not allowed to leave their home, nor even look outside, until he returns; they were to pray to the sun and continually burn sweet grass. Fasting and dressed in a bison headdress, the shaman led a group of people at the head of a V formation. He attracted the herd’s attention and brought them near the cliff; they were then scared by other men hiding behind them, who waved their robes and shouted. The bison ran off the cliff and died at the rocks below.
According to legend, at one point the bison refused to go over the cliff. A woman walking underneath the cliff saw a herd right on the edge and pledged to marry one which jumped down. One did so and survived, turning into many dead buffalo at the bottom of the cliff. The woman’s people ate the meat and the young woman left with the buffalo. Her father went in search of her. When he stopped to rest, he told a magpie to search for his daughter and tell her where he was. The magpie found the woman and told her where her father was located. The woman met her father but refused to go home, frightened that the bison would kill her and her father; she said to wait until they were all asleep and would not miss her for some time.
When she returned to the bison, her husband smelled another person and, gathering his herd, found the father and trampled him to death. The woman cried and her husband said that if she could bring her father back to life, they could both return to their tribe. The woman asked the magpie to find a piece of her father’s body; he found a piece of his spine.
The Piegan Blackfeet (Aapatohsipiikanii (Southern Piik.ni/Peigan) or simply as Piik.ni in Blackfoot) are a tribe of Native Americans of the Algonquian language family based in Montana, having lived in this area since around 6,500 BC. Many members of the tribe live as part of the Blackfeet Nation in northwestern Montana, with population centered in Browning. According to the 1990 US census, there are 32,234 Blackfeet. Three other tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy are First Nations located in Alberta, Canada.
The Blackfeet Reservation is located in Northwest Montana, just east of Glacier National Park. The 1.5-million acre reservation includes most of Glacier County and is home to about 7,500 members of the Blackfeet Nation, or about half of the total enrollment of some 14,700 members. Those living away from the reservation live mostly in the Pacific Northwest but some are as far away as Europe.
The town of Browning is the hub of the reservation and the home of several tribal offices and businesses. Other communities include Babb, East Glacier Park and St. Mary. The traveler will find a number of motels, hotels, campgrounds and restaurants on the reservation along with plentiful recreational opportunities there and within the nearby Glacier National Park.
The Blackfoot language is also agglutinative. The Blackfoot do not have well documented male Two-Spirits, but they do have “manly-hearted women” (Lewis, 1941) who act in much of the social roles of men, including willingness to sing alone, usually considered “immodest”, and using a men’s singing style. (Nettl, 1989).
The Blackfoot confederacy consists of the North Peigan (Aapatohsipiikanii), the South Peigan (Aamsskaapipiikanii), the Blood (Kainah), and the Siksika tribe (“Blackfoot”) or more correctly Siksikawa (“Blackfoot people”). Three of the four are located in Alberta, Canada while one, the South Peigan, is located in Montana. All together they traditionally called themselves the Niitsitapii (the “Real People”). These groups shared a common language and culture, had treaties of mutual defense, and freely intermarried.
The Blackfoot were fiercely independent and very successful warriors whose territory stretched from the North Saskatchewan River along what is now Edmonton Alberta, Canada, to the Missouri River of Montana, and from the Rocky Mountains and along the Saskatchewan river and down into the state of Montana to the Missouri river.
The basic social unit of the Blackfoot, above the family, was the band, varying from about 10 to 30 lodges, about 80 to 240 people. This size group was large enough to defend against attack and to undertake small communal hunts, but small enough for flexibility. Each band consisted of a respected leader, possibly his brothers and parents, and others who need not be related. Since the band was defined by place of residence, rather than by kinship, a person was free to leave one band and join another, which tended to ameliorate leadership disputes. As well, should a band fall upon hard times, its members could split-up and join other bands. in practice, bands were constantly forming and breaking-up. The system max
Blackfoot music, the music of the Blackfoot tribes, (best translated in the Blackfoot language as nitsinixki – “I sing”, from ninixksini – “song”) is primarily a vocal kind of music, using few instruments (called ninixkiitsis, derived from the word for song and associated primarily with European-American instruments), only percussion and voice, and few words.
By far the most important percussion instruments are drums (istokimatsis), with rattles (auani) and bells often being associated with the objects, such as sticks or dancers legs, they are attached to rather than as instruments of their own.
The basic musical unit is the song, and musicians, people who sing and drum, are called singers or drummers with both words being equivalent and referring to both activities. Women, though increasingly equal participants, are not called singers or drummers and it is considered somewhat inappropriate for women to sing loudly or alone. Piskani – “dance” or “ceremony” – often implicitly includes music and is often applied to ceremonies with little dancing and much singing.
Blackfoot music is an “emblem of the heroic and the difficult in Blackfoot life.” This is evidenced by: “the separation of music from the rest of life through aspects of performance practice, a sharp distinction between singing and speaking, the absence of words in many songs, and the use of song texts to impart major points in myth in a condensed and concentrated form all relate music to the heroic aspect of life. There is a close association of music to warfare and the fact that most singing was done by men and the musical role, even today, of community leaders and principal carriers of tradition. The acquisition of songs as associated with difficult feats–learned in visions brought about through self-denial and torture, required to be learned quickly, sung with the expenditure of great energy, sung in a difficult vocal style–all of this puts songs in the category of the heroic and the difficult.”
Spirit Talk Culture Institute
P.O. Box 477
East Glacier, In the Blackfoot Nation 59434-0477
Phone: (406) 338-2882
(The Real People Declare)
“Believe in the beauty and strength of your own being. Forget the foolish belief that you and your fellow human beings were born evil. Those who would control you all the days of your life on earth perpetuate the belief iihtsipaitapiiyopa (Source of Life) made things to have a bad spirit.
Live a life of truth and honesty. This makes you a person of quality and dignity. Truth and honesty are the kind of leadership qualities that attracts others.
Give honor and respect to others regardless of age and situation in life. This quality makes you and others worthy of honor and respect, which makes others, feel worthwhile and fulfilled. Honor and respect empowers others so they can win the day. They will return it to you fourfold.
Honor the earth and all that exists. Be strong in this belief and practice it throughout your life because it makes for a world of kindness that binds all the good things of life together in a circle of harmony.
Be humble but not timid. To be humble is to connect yourself to the stars and the entire universe and makes you aware there is something unique about life that is to be enjoyed without fear. We are people from the stars and because of it we are sacred.
Help others realize that life is a dream . . . . A beautiful dream. Dreamers are the butterflies of life and help others to realize their dreams.
Be humorous and help others to enjoy life and the life of others. Humor makes you attractive. The humorous person has many guests and the one who is invited everywhere because of the joy they bring to the gathering.
Never be afraid to talk matters over with those you disagree with or those you love. The gift of language is a miracle and it is meant to be used to live a life of harmony, joy, love, and respect. Use it well and use it often.
What is described here is leadership and happiness in the broadest sense. These are the qualities that make for a great father, grandmother, mother, teacher, grandfather, lover, traditional leader, friend and a great human being. Best of all you can add to this list.”
I give these to you in honor and respect: