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Collection: Blackfoot Social Life

Blackfoot Bands

Each of the three tribes is composed of bands, kaiyok’ kowommostiijaw, implying not only bonds of friendship but bonds of blood. 1As to the origin of the term band, used so generally by the older writers and traders of this area, we have a suggestion from Keating: “The term hand, as applied to a herd of buffalo, has almost become technical, being the only one in use in the west. It is derived from the French term bande.” Keating, 379. We may venture that the use of this term for a head man and his following among the Indians of this same area was suggested by the analogy between the two kinds of groups, these old naive observers not being blinded by sociological preconceptions. These bands have been discussed by Grinnell who considers them true gentes 2Grinnell, George Bird. Blackfoot Lodge Tales. New York, 1904, p. 223-224. though he states that in recent times, at least, the adherence to exogamy was not absolute. For our part, we have met with many contradictory statements and observations among the Indians now living, so that we can do no more than offer what seems to be the most consistent view of the data available. In the first place, while the band is a definite group in the minds of the Indians and every individual knows to what band he belongs, they manifest...

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Blackfoot Birth Customs

As the period of pregnancy nears its end the women discard their bracelets and most of their metal ornaments. They dress in old clothes and affect carelessness of person. Should a person look fixedly at one, she will say, “Don’t. My child will look like you; you are ugly,” etc. As the hour approaches, they retire to an isolated tipi where they are attended by other women, men not being admitted. A medicine woman may be called, who usually administers decoctions for internal use, supposed to facilitate delivery. For bearing down, the patient holds to a pole of the tipi, an attendant grasping her around the waist. When delivered she is laced up with a piece of skin or rawhide as a support. She is then required to walk or creep about in the tipi for a while instead of resting quietly, in the belief that recovery will be hastened thereby. The after-birth is thrown away and not placed in a tree as among the Dakota. Men should not approach the birthplace for a period as their medicine and war powers would be weakened thereby. The father may enter but at some risk. It is bad luck for men to step upon the clothing of the newly born or touch those of the mother; lameness and other disorders of the feet and limbs will surely follow. Birth marks are...

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Blackfoot Care and Training of Children

Large families seem not to have been unusual though I have never seen many children with one woman. Some old men now living claim to be fathers of more than twenty children each, though not by a single mother. 1“These Indians often have many children, who generally run and play about quite naked, and swim in the river like ducks. The boys go naked till they are thirteen or fourteen years old, but the girls have a leather dress at an early age.” Maximilian, Prince of Wied. Early Western Travels, 1748-1846. Edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites. Cleveland, 1906, Vol. 23. p. 110. The young children, at least receive considerable attention and some discipline. They are sometimes punished by a dash of cold water or a forced plunge. In former times, some old men were charged with responsibility for each boy’s morning bath in the stream regardless of temperature; hence, children were admonished that these men would get them. Striking a child is not regarded as proper. The favorite boggie is the coyote, or the wolf. Women will say, “Now, there is a coyote around: he will get you.” Sometimes they say, ” Come on wolf and bite this baby.” Such words often compose lullabies, a favorite one being, “Come, old woman, with your meat pounder smash this baby’s head.” After the use of intoxicants became general, children were threatened...

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Blackfoot Courtship

It seems proper to begin the discussion of our subject with those conventions directly associated with sexual activities. Among the Blackfoot, as everywhere, the male is usually the aggressor. He lies in wait outside the tipi at night or along the paths to the water and wood-gathering places to force his attentions. This phase of sexual life is often expressed in myths and tales, intercepting the girl with her bundles of wood being the favorite. 1Vol. 2, pp. 58, 109. Another manner of approach is by creeping under the tipi cover into the sleeping place of the girls. When countenanced by the girl’s family, attentions may be received by day in full view of all, the couple sitting together muffled in the same blanket, a familiar Dakota practice. Naturally, the girl may offer the first invitation. The most conventional way is for her to make moccasins secretly for the youth of her choice, this being regarded as the first proper step. Curiously enough, when married the young bride is expected to make a pair of moccasins for each of her husband’s male relatives. Then they will say, “Well, my female relative (nimps) is all right, she makes moccasins for us.” As the wife usually goes to live with her husband’s people, this is something of a formal demonstration of her worth to his family. To all appearances, at least,...

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Blackfoot Death And Mourning

When one is taken ill the family sends for a medicine man, promising- him a horse. If the family is of some importance they may call in a number of such men, to> each of whom a horse is promised. They sit around the tipi and work their magic powers in turn while their women assist with the songs. Food and other comforts must be provided for them and their enthusiasm stimulated by gifts of additional horses. A long acute illness will deprive the family of its accumulated property. Often a man will tell you that he is very poor now since he or some of his relatives have been ill for a time. Medicine men usually permit the family to keep the gift horses until needed and often transfer, or sell, their claims to a third party. Should the patient die, they leave at once, often taking with them all the loose property of the family. If a person dies in a house it is abandoned, or afterwards torn down and erected elsewhere, as the Blackfoot believe the ghost of the deceased haunts the spot. Should a young child die, the house will be abandoned for a time only. In former times, the tipi was abandoned or used as a burial-tipi. When all hope for the patient is abandoned, he is painted and dressed in his best costume...

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Blackfoot Amusements and Games

In former times, there was a good deal of merriment in the Blackfoot camps. We have just characterized some of the jokes often perpetrated and may mention others strictly for amusement. One Piegan band was noted for its pranks. One of their favorites was to annoy visitors by a mock family row. The host would begin a quarrel with his wife and then to fight. The neighbors would rush in and with mock indignation take the woman’s part. The result was a general melee in which they took care to fall upon the guest and wallow him about as...

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Social Life of the Blackfoot Indians

In this third paper on the ethnology of the Blackfoot Indians, Clark Wissler examines the social culture of the Blackfoot Indians, particularly the Piegan division in Montana. Complete with pictures where appropriate this paper approaches the social life of Blackfoot Indians in a fair and unpretentious manner. Discussions concern marriage, child rearing, naming, games and amusements, government of tribe, picture writing, and other activities specific to the social organization of the Blackfoot Indians. While Clark relied heavily on the first hand knowledge of a Piegan Indian, he supplemented that information with known facts from a variety of sources.

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