Niitsitapiiksi: The Blackfoot People
Long before the first European settlers arrived in North America, Indigenous peoples were living and thriving on the prairies in southern Alberta. The Blackfoot were proud and independent buffalo hunters, who at one time controlled and occupied the land from as far north as the Red Deer river, west to the Rocky Mountains, east to the North Saskatchewan river and south to Yellowstone or even parts of northern Texas.
The Blackfoot people call themselves Niitsitapiiksi—meaning the real people. Four tribes make up the Blackfoot nation: Siksika, Blackfoot north; Kainai, Blood; Piikani, Peigan north; and Amskapi Pikuni, Peigan south or Blackfeet, Montana.
The Blackfoot were clan based and lived in a communal society. Their livelihood centred on the buffalo which provided food, shelter and clothing. Before acquiring horses, the Blackfoot traditionally hunted the buffalo utilizing the buffalo jump. This was a hunting process with the goal of driving a herd of buffalo over a sheer bluff. The buffalo hunt sustained the Blackfoot through the long, cold winter months.
Until the 1800s, the Blackfoot lived a seasonal life. There were three major camp movements through the year. First, they moved from their traditional winter camp in the foothills region to the plains for the summer, for the annual, traditional Blackfoot Sundance. The fall move would be for the annual buffalo hunt before returning to the winter camping area.
In addition to buffalo, the Blackfoot people’s diet consisted of many other staples. They ate deer, elk and the wild vegetation in the area they occupied, such as berries and wild turnip. They utilized many parts of the animals they hunted for clothing, shelter, fuel and ceremonial needs.
You can learn more about traditional and modern Blackfoot history and culture during Indigenous Awareness Week JUN 18–23. For a list of events and partnering organizations visit www.galtmuseum.com.