Native History



 
 
 

  In the beginning all the world was water. One day the Old Man, also called Napi, was curious to find out what might be beneath the water. He sent animals to dive below the surface. First duck, then otter, then badger dived in vain. The Old Man sent muskrat diving to the depths. After a long time muskrat rose to the surface holding between his paws a little ball of mud. Old Man took this ball of mud and blew upon it. The mud began to swell growing larger and larger until it became the whole earth.  The Old Man then made the people.  (Ancient Blackfoot tale)
 

The first natives to arrive in the region arrived after the cold Pleistocene Glaciers vacated the area. They were ancestors to the Asian immigrants who had recently arrived to the area, approximately 11,000 years ago. These paleo-indians, eventually moved on. Archaologists know this because there is no evidence of permanent settlement of this region at that time. However Archaeology does note that approximately 5000 to 3000 years ago permanent people moved to this region. These people inhabited the region of southern Alberta, and were Alagonkian speaking people. It is thought that these people migrated to this region from Eastern Saskatchewan and Ontario because all the tribes spoke tongues which were very similar to Algonkian. These ancestors to the Algonkian people are referred to as the Blackfoot Nation. It is beleived they came to Alberta in search of large game such as Buffalo (See Map)

The Southern Balckfoot were surrounded by the Stoney Plains, Cree, and Sarcee to the north, the Kootenay to the east, and the Sioux to the south. With constant fighting, raiding and pillaging by their neighbors, it became apparent to the Blackfoot people that alliances needed to born. The confederacy was born when the Blood, Peigan and Blackfeet formed the Blackfoot confederation. The Gros venture and the Sarcee were later added as allies but not as a part of the confederation. The Blackfoot confederation lasted until the mid 1850's when great battles erupted between the Confederation over stolen horses, and ended in a great bloodshed.

Naming of the Blackfeet

You  might have wondered how the Blackfoot decided on their tribe names. A tale has it a warrior (of what would be called the blackfoot nation) went visiting the tribes of the southern province in a time when war and great fires plagued the plains. The first band he arrived to, he called for the chief, and everyone in the tribe answered "I am the chief." He then named these people the "Akinai" (bloods), which means many chiefs. He then moved on to visit another tribe, and found that they all wore  hides of covered in berries and bits of meat, he named them the "Peigan" which means scabby hides.  When he visited the Akinai  they had noticed his moccasins were blackened from the scorched earth, and he was called a man from the "Siska"  Blackfeet.

Modern Native History.
 

Though the first native contact in Southern Alberta didn't occur until the late 1700's the Blackfoot of Southern Alberta long have felt the sting of the trading white man.  Goods were often moved inland by other natives and sold to the Blackfoot at a great price. Horses were sold to the tribes, and when white man finally reached this region, the Blackfeet were already expert riders, breeders and had incorporated the horse into their daily life styles. The Blackfoot were often disadvantaged because the Cree and Assinboine to the east could conquer Blackfoot territory with  European rifles and technology.  Because of the lack of furs and general riches in the region, the Hudson's Bay Company and other trading companies had no reason to establish posts in this arid, seemingly worthless region.

The first white people to arrive in this region and conducted business and attempted to make contact with the natives were the Americans. They arrived and established trade for the hides and dried goods from Buffalo. The first Americans were not welcomed by the natives and war ensued between the two. Both sides treated each other as enemies. The first Americans in this region were trappers and hunters, and were regarded as thieves by the Blackfoot. In 1831 the American fur trading company made peace with the Blackfoot, and established Fort Peigan on the upper waters of the Missouri. Over the next few decades as American traders brought in the deadly small pox disease, the Blackfoot population dropped from an estimated 11,000 people to merely 6000 peoples (Dempsey, 1979).  The American presence continued to grow in this region, and a frustrated Blackfoot people struck back in what was known as the "Blackfoot War" of 1850.  In 1855 the Blackfoot in the United States,  signed a treaty with the Americans where they signed over their land so the Americans could build a railway in this region. Increased settlement and conflict between whites and Blackfoot drove many Blackfoot over to the Canadian side of the border.

The Canadian government grew increasingly weary over this region, as increased conflict between American traders and the Blackfoot on the Canadian side of this region, and the illegal whiskey trade were worsening the indian condition. In attempt to preserve territory from the Americans and regulate the whisky trade,  Sir John A MacDonald in 1873 approved for a force of 500 policemen to reside and govern the region of Southern Alberta. At the time American trading posts doted this region selling whiskey;  Fort Whoop Up was one of them. The North West Mounted Police, expelled and arrested illegal traders, and took over the trading forts, such as Ft. Whoop as their own. Forts like Fort Macleod were also built in the attempt to regulate the region. All in all the North West Mounted Police were successful at banishing the whisky traders and establishing a Canadian presence in this region.  Revered amoungst the natives, was a police man called MacLeod, who helped the Blackfoot confederacy negotaite many treatises which would later rob the people of their hunting lands, banish them to reserves and forever rob them of their identity, even to this present day, many of the blackfoot people live on poor reserves all over southern Alberta.

If you wish to know more about the lifestyle of the Blackfoot please visit this website

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1.    Indian Tribes of Alberta, Hugh Dempsey
        Glenbow Museum 1979
2.    http://www.inac.gc.ca (Use of photos)
        Date of visit, December, 1999