The territory of the Blackfoot Nation from the mid-1700s to the settlement period was roughly from the Battle River in the north to the upper Missouri River, and from the foothills to roughly the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. Thus, the Blackfoot hunting area included the rich buffalo ranges of southern Alberta and northern Montana. Their population varied over this period, ranging as high as 11 200 in 1823 and as low as 6350 after the 1837 smallpox epidemic. By 1996, their population had risen to more than 25 000, almost equally divided between INDIAN RESERVES in Alberta (almost 16 000) and Montana.
Linguistically the Blackfoot speak an Algonquian dialect that is distantly related to the CREE and Gros Ventre. However, their language is distinctive, with only slight variations in dialect among the 3 nations. The Blackfoot claim a long plains occupancy, a tradition confirmed by archaeological research. Their traditional culture is based entirely upon a buffalo economy.
The Blackfoot felt the influence of the White man before the first explorers met them in the mid-1700s. The horse, which had been brought to the New World by the Spanish, reached them from the south about 1725, at the same time as they received the firearms from Cree middlemen. Throughout most of the 18th and 19th centuries, the equestrian Blackfoot dominated their hunting area and were constantly at war with the Cree, ASSINIBOINE, Crow, DAKOTA, Nez Percé, Shoshoni and other adversarial nations. They frequented the HUDSON'S BAY CO and NORTH WEST CO posts on the North Saskatchewan River, but carried on an incessant war with American trappers and free traders in the south until peace was made in 1831. From that time on, the Blackfoot divided their trade between the British and Americans.
In 1855 the Blackfoot signed a treaty with the American government and in 1877 Treaty No 7 was signed with the Canadian government. Most of the Peigan (Pikuni) settled on a reservation in Montana, and the Blackfoot (Siksika), Blood (Kainai) and North Peigan (Pikuni) nations each established a reserve in southern Alberta.
Because of the size of their reserves, the Blackfoot nations were able to retain much of their culture and language, although both have rapidly diminished in the post-WWII era. Today the reserves rely upon ranching and farming as their main industries, with small factories and plants being operated from time to time.
Author HUGH A. DEMPSEY
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge
The website for the Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge, which features Canada's largest essay writing competition for Aboriginal youth (ages 14-29) and a companion program for those who prefer to work through painting, drawing and photography. See their guidelines, teacher resources, profiles of winners, and more. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples
The website for the "Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples." Click on the links for feature articles about Canada's many multicultural communities, access to their extensive digital archives collection, learning modules, and much more. From "Multicultural Canada."
Languages of Canada
A comprehensive online database of languages currently in use in Canada. Also provides details about extinct languages. Check out the "language maps" for more information. Based on "Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition." From SIL International, a US website.
An extensive biography of Edgar Dewdney, civil engineer, contractor, politician, office holder, and lieutenant governor. Provides details about his involvement with Indian and Métis communities in the North-West Territories, the settlement of the West, the construction of the transcontinental railway, and related events. From the “Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.”
Four Directions Teachings
Elders and traditional teachers representing the Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwe, Mohawk, and Mi’kmaq share teachings about their history and culture. Animated graphics visualize each of the oral teachings. This website also provides biographies of participants, transcripts, and an extensive array of learning resources for students and their teachers. In English with French subtitles.
Niitsitapiisini: Our Way of Life
This website presents the culture and history of the Blackfoot-speaking people as they know and understand it. It has been developed through a unique collaboration among the people of the Blackfoot First Nations and Glenbow Museum.
A Story of Beat Meat (Pemmican)
Peruse this article about pemmican, the dried and powdered meat of the buffalo, which became the staple food of the fur trade from Rainy Lake to the Rockies. From the website for the Manitoba Historical Society.
Industrial Development of Lethbridge: A Geographer's Interpretation
An account of the industrial development in the City of Lethbridge from a geographical and historical perspective. A paper by Ian MacLachlan, The University of Lethbridge. Click on the link at the bottom of the page for the PDF version of this document.
Canada’s First Nations
This extensive multimedia website profiles the history, culture, and language of Canada's First Nations peoples. Also examines the impact of European contact on First Nations communities. A joint project of the University of Calgary and Red Deer College.
This biography of Blackfoot chief Issap'mahkikaaw (Crowfoot) covers his relationship with the Hudson’s Bay Company, white fur-traders, missionaries, and more. From the "Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online."
See an image of a Blackfoot design that appears in the Quilt of Belonging art project.
Canadian First Peoples
View portraits of First Nations historical figures at this Royal Ontario Museum website.