Collection: Blackfoot Social Life

Blackfoot Property Rights

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now When a man dies his property is raided by his relatives. The older sons usually take the bulk but must make concessions to all concerned. If the children are young, the father’s relatives take the property. In any event, nothing goes to the widow. She may, however, retain her own personal property to the extent of that brought with her at marriage. She may claim, though not always with success, the offspring of her own horses. These are horses given her by her relatives and friends. Though not clearly thought out, the feeling seems to be that as the widow returns to her band she is entitled to take only such property as she brought with her at marriage. At the death of a wife, her personal property is regarded as due her relatives, and may go to her daughters, if grown, otherwise back to her band. Theoretically, at least, the woman owned the tipi, the travois, the horse she rode, her domestic implements and clothing. Even today, when the white conception of property tends to dominate, a man seldom speaks when his wife bargains away her own handwork, bedding, and house furnishings. Formerly, disputes concerning property were taken to the headmen for adjustment: now the settlements of estates go to the authorized Indian court. Property was...

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The Blackfoot Mother-in-Law Taboo

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now The preceding may be a phase of the well-known mother-in-law taboo. Among the Blackfoot, still, a man should not speak to his mother-in-law, or even look at her. The taboo is equally binding upon her. If one is-discovered about to enter the tipi where the other is present, some one gives warning in time to avoid the breach. Should the son-in-law enter, he must make her a present to mitigate her shame; should the mother-in-law offend, she must also make a small return. However, as usual with such taboos, there are ways of adjusting this restriction when necessary. If the son-in-law is ill, she may, in case of need, care for him and speak to him; upon his recovery the taboo is considered as permanently removed. Each may call on the other when in great danger, after which they need not be ashamed to meet. Sometimes when a man went out to war or was missing, his mother-in-law would register a vow that if he returned alive, she would shake hands with him and give him a horse and feel no more shame at meeting. The son-in-law may remove the taboo by presenting a few captured guns or horses. Some informants claim that four such presentations were necessary, after which his mother-in-law would take him by...

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Blackfoot Tribal Divisions

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now As previously stated, there are three political divisions of the Blackfoot Indians. These were definite when the tribes first came to our knowledge and their origins have long had a place in mythology. The genesis of these divisions must forever remain obscure, though there are a few suggestions as to what may have been the order of differentiation. While the term Blackfoot has been used by explorers from the very first, it seems also to have some general significance among the Indians themselves. Thus, a Piegan will tell you that he is a Piegan, but if asked who are the Piegan, will usually reply that they are Blackfoot Indians. Naturally, this may be due to foreign influence, the idea of subordination to the Blackfoot division having grown out of knowledge that such a classification was accepted by the dominant race. 1“All these Indians [Piegan, Blood; Blackfoot] are comprehended, by the Whites, under the general name of Blackfeet, which they themselves do not, however, extend so far, but know each of the three tribes only by its own proper name ” Maximilian, Prince of Wied. Early Western Travels, 1748-1846. Edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites. Cleveland, 1906, Vol 23, p. 96. In the sign language, there appears no distinct designation for the group as a whole. According to our...

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Blackfoot Tribal Organization and Control

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now In a way, the band may be considered the social and political unit. There is, in a general sense, a band chief, but we have failed to find good grounds for assuming that he has any formal right to a title or an office. He is one of an indefinite number of men designated as headmen. These headmen may be considered as the social aristocracy, holding their place in society in the same indefinite and uncertain manner as the social leaders of our own communities. Thus, we hear that no Blackfoot can aspire to be looked upon as a head man unless he is able to entertain well, often invite others to his board, and make a practice of relieving the wants of his less fortunate band members. Such practices are sure to strain the aspirant’s resources and many sink under it; but he who can meet all such demands soon acquires a place in the social life of the band that is often proof against the ill fortunes of later years. This phase of their social life is very much alive, having survived not only the changes in economic conditions brought about by the reservation system but the direct opposition of its officers. This story is oft repeated: a young man takes to stock raising,...

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Blackfoot Tales Of Adventure

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now Many Blackfoot men now but a half-century old took part in raids and fights, or went on the warpath, so that now, as of old, deeds of war are important social assets. In former times, only men of great deeds were called upon to perform certain public and ceremonial functions, a custom still in force but naturally less binding. While there are other social ideals, such as owning important medicines, becoming a headman and possessing wealth, that of being a successful warrior can scarcely be overestimated. The tale of adventure as told by the chief actor is the delight of the fireside and entrances old and young alike when delivered by a skilful narrator. Other tales, those of tradition and hearsay, are seldom offered as it is the custom for one to narrate his own experiences, a rather high ideal of truthfulness being entertained. Of course, there are historical traditions, but they are usually given in brief without much life. Adventures with animals and of the hunt have a place, but are of far less social significance. The following is offered as a type of war narrative and also because it gives a very clear picture of just how an expedition for plunder was conducted. It was narrated by Strangle Wolf, a very old man, and...

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Blackfoot Family Relationship Terms

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now The most important relationships in life are given in the accompanying table where the equivalents in our nomenclature are given for the Piegan terms: first, if the person considered is male, second, if female. In general, it appears that the terms as applied by males to males are more restricted and definite than those of males to females and females to persons of both sexes, though in function the terms are so used as to be equally intelligible. Thus, while a girl uses the term, father, in addressing men married to her mother’s sisters, she does not confuse this relation with the real one. On the other hand, it appears that the system as given in the table is ordered on the theory that sisters become the wives of the same man. This is also consistent with the distant-wife relationship previously discussed. Further, the system seems adapted to a gentile band organization in that the relation-ships of the women are more inclusive on the father’s side; this, however, is not entirely consistent. Terms Significance as Applied to Males, Significance as Applied to Females  nĭ‘nna my father my father and husbands of my mother’s sisters. niksŏ‘stak my mother and her sisters; wives of my elder brothers, brothers of my father and of my mother my mother and...

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The Way Blackfoot Reckon Time

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now As far as our information goes, the time of day was noted by the sun and the night by the position of Ursa major, the Seven Stars. The year was designated by the winter, each winter constituting a new year. Two divisions or seasons were recognized; spring and autumn were regarded as originating with the whites. Each season was considered as composed of moons; the period during which the moon was invisible taken as the beginning of another moon. We found little consistency in the nomenclature of moons, our information implying that they were considered more by numerals than by names. The tendency was to count the moons from about October, the beginning of winter or the New Year. Variation seems to have been due to the fact that calendar counts were kept by a few individuals, usually medicine men, who modified the system according to their own theories. One man who kept a calendar gave the following list: – Winter Moons Summer Moons 1. Beginning winter moon Beginning summer’s moon 2. Wind moon Frog moon 3. Cold moon Thunder moon 4. Two-big-Sunday moon Big-Sunday moon 5. Changeable moon Berry moon 6. Uncertain moon Chokecherry moon 7. Geese moon The references to Sunday are to the Christmas and July holidays of our own calendar. The year...

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Blackfoot Oaths

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now The sun is called upon in the most solemn oaths. Thus, when women get into a dispute one may take the other by the chin and say “Now, we will talk to the sun. If what I say is not true, may I never live to put my foot into another snow,” etc. A man may appeal to the earth but more likely it is the sun, as, ” The sun hears me,” etc. Men usually make oaths over pipes. Thus, when a man tells an improbable story he may be asked if he will smoke upon its truth. This refers to the mode of making formal oaths. Often when laboring with a man to prevent him from taking the life of another, the head-men and relatives induce him to take an oath that he will not do the deed. A medicine man fills a pipe, paints the stem red and addresses the sun as to the purpose of the ceremony about to be per-formed; the one to take the oath then smokes the pipe which is considered most binding. The same method is often used in pledging a man to mend his evil ways. There is another method – something like an ordeal. The point of a knife is held in the ashes at the...

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Blackfoot Names

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now Each individual has a name. The name is single in that there is neither family nor band name; though some persons, especially men, possess several names, these are co-ordinate and never used jointly. The right to name the child rests with the father; though he rarely confers it in person unless a man of great importance. He usually calls in a man of distinction who receives presents in return for his services. A woman may be called, but less often than a man, be the child male or female. There is no fixed time for this, but it is not considered right to defer it many weeks after birth. The namer asks to have a sweat house made which he enters, often in company with the father and other men he chances to invite. After the usual sweat house ceremonies, the namer suggests two or three names for consideration by the family. A selection is then made, the father, in any event, having the right of final approval. Prayers are usually offered by the namer. The conferring of the name is regarded as of very great importance since the manner of its doing is believed to influence the fate of the child during the entire span of life. The virtue of the naming is greatly enhanced,...

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Blackfoot Marriage and Its Obligations

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now Before proceeding, it should be noted that the courtship discussed in the preceding has no necessary relation to marriage, and may continue secretly after one or both are married. Proposals frequently come from the parents of either the girl or the man and often without the knowledge of one or both of the contracting parties. Mr. Grinnell has described in some detail what may be regarded as the most ostentatious form of proposal, 1Grinnell, George Bird. Blackfoot Lodge Tales. New York, 1904, p. 211-216; see also McClintock, Walter. The Old North Trail. London, 1910, p. 185. making it unnecessary to discuss the matter here. In general, it appears that the negotiations are carried on between the fathers of the couple or between the father and his prospective son-in-law. If successful, the next step is the exchange of presents. Grinnell denies that there is an idea of wife purchase in these transactions, 2Grinnell, George Bird. Blackfoot Lodge Tales. New York, 1904,217. but when discussing divorce on the following page says the husband could “demand the price paid for her.” According to our information, the idea of purchase is still alive, though the woman herself may, as Grinnell claims, be regarded as more than a chattel. Even today, bridegroom is expected to give a few horses and other...

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Blackfoot Heraldry And Picture Writing

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now The term deed as used by us has the same social signif1cance as coup, a full discussion of which has been given by Grinnell. 1Grinnell, George Bird. Blackfoot Lodge Tales. New York, 1904, p. 248. Also American Anthropologist, Vol. 12, p. 296. Without going into details, it seems that among the Blackfoot, the capture of a weapon was the coup, or deed, rather than the formal striking of the enemy, though such was also taken into account. Our impression is, from what we have heard in...

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Blackfoot Division of Labor

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now The women dress the skins, make their own clothes and most of those used by men. They make most of their own utensils: the tipi, the travois, the riding-gear, prepare and cook the food, gather the vegetables and berries, and carry the wood and water. As the greater part of the baggage, when traveling, is their property, they bear the burden of its transportation. It is a disgrace both to himself and his women, for a man to carry wood or water, to put up a tipi, to use a travois, to cook food when at home and above all to own food or provisions. 1An informant states that this applies especially to married men: that in some cases a young single man is called upon to get water after dark, or at any time when it is very cold, a woman may call upon a young man to get wood. While the men usually did the butchering, the meat on arriving at the tipi became the property of the women. A young man may cook food but in seclusion. There is a pretty tale of a young fellow surprised by his sweetheart while cooking meat. He threw the hot meat into the bed and lay upon it. The girl embraced him and fondled him while...

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Blackfoot Divorce

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now The chief grounds for divorce from the man’s point of view, are laziness and adultery. For these or any other causes he may turn his wife out of doors. The woman then returns to her relatives where she is cared for and protected until another marriage can be arranged. The husband usually demands a return for the property he gave for her at marriage; he is sure to do this if she marries again. From the woman’s point of view, adultery does not justify divorce, but neglect and cruelty may result in abandonment. She flees to her relatives where she is safe from attack. The husband’s family then opens negotiations with her relatives and an attempt at adjustment is made. The woman’s family usually agrees to another trial, but may finally decide to find her another husband. Then her husband demands a settlement and is entitled to equivalent return for what he gave at marriage. Thus, formal divorce is really a restitution of the husband’s marriage gifts, or a refund of the purchase price. In general, divorce seems not to have been common as it was looked upon as disgraceful under all circumstances and grievously expensive. The behavior of the husband was softened by his knowing that in case of continued discord his wife’s relatives were...

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Blackfoot Etiquette

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now To discuss this subject in detail would be a matter of considerable inter-est and doubtless of definite comparative value; but it is our intention to note only such points as came readily to notice. Naturally, many points mentioned under previous heads may be considered as bearing upon this topic. On approaching the tipi of a stranger, it is proper for a man to pause some distance away and call out to know if the head of the family is at home. If he is out and there is no adult male to act instead, the visitor is upon such information not expected to enter but may, of course, carry on a conversation with the women on the outside. When one is acquainted, or where the man is known to be within, he enters without ceremony and takes a place to his right of the door. Should the entire side be unoccupied he moves up to a place opposite the host; should it be occupied he takes the first vacant place. However, a man’s status and age may make it incumbent upon those seated to make a place appropriate to his rank. 1The ownership of certain medicines may determine the seat. Thus, as guests, the medicine pipe men are given a seat opposite the host and must...

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Blackfoot Gambling

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now Playing for stakes was always a favorite and the games to be described here were rarely played except in gambling. Gambling is often spoken of as fighting, or war, and in turn war is spoken of as gambling. This is reflected in a myth where the players’ scalps were at stake. 1Vol. 2, p. 132. The Hand-Game Piaks kaiosin, approximately fancy gambling, was in a way team work, sometimes as many as twenty-five men on a side, band playing against band or even camp against camp....

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