The largest tribe in Montana was the Blackfeet. Instead of being a single tribe with a head chief and central government, they are a confederacy of three sub-tribes speaking the same language, namely: Siksika or Blackfoot proper; Kaina (Kśna), or Blood; and PikŻni, or Piegan. The Montana Blackfeet are the only Plains group to have a reservation in the United States; the other groups occupy reservations in Southern Alberta, Canada.
As is usually the case with Indian tribes, the origin of the name is disputed. One tradition ascribes it to the blackening of their moccasins from the ashes of prairie fires on their first arrival in their present country. It may have come, however, from the former wearing of a black moccasin, such as distinguished certain southern tribes. The name is also that of a prominent war-society among tribes of the Plains.
After the arrival of the Europeans, the Blackfeet were one of the first tribes to begin moving west. Soon they were roaming huge portions of the northern plains. They adopted the nomadic lifestyle of the Plains Indians. Before they had the horse, Blackfeet drove buffalo over a pishkin or cliff for harvesting. Blackfeet typically traveled in bands of 20 to 30 people, which seemed to be the most effective number for buffalo hunting. However, the tribes would come together for various ceremonies and rituals, like the Sun Dance, and for trade.
The Blackfeet became excellent horsemen and hunters. They expanded their territory and resisted intrusion by the white man into the late nineteenth century.
The most sacred yearly event was the sun dance, or Medicine Lodge Ceremony. As a communal event, the Blackfeet and other Plains tribes would gather in mid-summer to fulfill vows to assure the well-being of the community through the continued abundance of the buffalo.
Undoubtedly, the greatest devastation to the Indian people was the near extinction of the buffalo by the white settlers. Their main food source gone and not having yet taken up the concept of farming, the Blackfeet were forced with total dependence upon the Indian Agency for food. The winter of 1884 was a cruel one; over 600 Indians starved to death reducing the tribe to some 1,400 people.
In 1895 the tribe sold what is now Glacier National Park to the government for mineral exploration.
Of an estimated 14,000 Blackfeet in the world today, approximately 8,500 live on the reservation. The town of Browning is the seat of the tribal government as well as the site of the annual North American Indian Days celebration in mid-July.
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