Blackfoot

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Blackfoot

Blackfoot, Native North Americans of the Algonquian branch of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). They occupied in the early 19th cent. a large range of territory around the Upper Missouri (above the Yellowstone) and North Saskatchewan rivers W to the Rockies. Their name derives from the fact that they dyed their moccasins black. There were three main tribes—the Siksika, or Blackfoot proper; the Piegan; and the Kainah, or Blood. Although they did not form a unified political entity, they were united in defending their lands and in warfare. The Atsina (related to the Arapaho) and the Athapascan-speaking Sarsi were allied with the Blackfoot group. The Blackfoot were unremittingly hostile toward neighboring tribes and usually toward white men; intrusions upon Blackfoot lands were efficiently repelled. Prior to the mid-18th cent. they had moved into the N Great Plains area, acquired horses from southern tribes, and developed a nomadic Plains culture, largely dependent on the buffalo. Their only cultivated crop was tobacco, grown for ceremonial purposes. With the early coming of the white man, the Blackfoot gained wealth from the sale of beaver pelts, but the killing off of the buffalo and the near exhaustion of fur stocks brought them to near starvation. Presently the Blackfoot are mainly ranchers and farmers living on reservations in Montana and Alberta. They continue to a small degree the rich ceremonialism that earlier marked their religion; important rituals include the sun dance and the vision quest. In 1990 there were 38,000 Blackfoot in the United States and over 11,000 in Canada.

See J. C. Ewers, The Blackfeet: Raiders on the Northwestern Plains (1958, repr. 1967); H. A. Dempsey, Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfeet (1972); M. McFee, Modern Blackfeet (1972); B. Nettl, Blackfoot Musical Thought (1989).

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