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The Blackfoot Civilization
A Book Report by Morning Star

Page 3

Indian Names

Christianity influenced the naming of Indians.  This happened in various ways.  Through schools is one of the most common many years ago.  The teacher went around the room asking the children what was their father's name.  Then ask the Indian children to pick a name that sounds best to them from a choice of many.  The name they picked would become they name in the classroom.  The teacher in some cases would shorten the name of the father to make it easier to remember.

There are various ways the Indians received English surnames.  Many Government records show that last names were given to the Indians by the Indian Agent assigned to that reservation.  The Government needed some way to keep track of the Indian people on the reservations.  They needed white man names because the white man could not pronounce the Indian names.  For example, Bear Chief, Nii-nohk-kyi-yo is not easily learned.  A non-Indian speaker normally can't pronounce it.

In the true Indian culture, there are no surnames passed down from father to child.  There is no Jr. or Young Blood family clan in the Indian way.  This is all Christian tradition as a way of identify who belongs to whom.  The white's system didn't and doesn't know how to relate to Indians and their families and relatives according to Indian traditions of counting relatives.  So they changed the system and the Indians went along with it in order to be counted on the government roles.

The tradition of name giving or taking of names is something unique to the Indians' identity of who they are as a person.  Indian men may change their name two or three times in his lifetime.  He might even change it himself, or someone might honor him with a new name.  He might even be involved in a particular event and take that name.  In this way, the individual is respected for the person and encourages it to the extent that the individual must also contribute to the group.  In honor of that recognition of peoples' differences and talents, there is no family surname.  The last name (surname) is a white man's way of identification of a person and his kin.

In the early 1950's and 1960's, Indians changed their names because Indian culture was being discouraged.  Policy makers and social scientists were advising that the Indian undergo s complete change in lifestyle.  An example of this policy is the government's policy toward assimilation.  This RELOCATION program required the expenditure of millions of taxpayer dollars to relocate Indians from reservations into urban areas such as Los Angels, Dallas, Toledo, as well as other metropolitan areas.  Their purpose was to provide job opportunities for the Indian people.  Intended to change the Indian's way of life to that of a white man's style.  In other cases, Indians changed their names voluntarily.

In modern times, Indians can change their names by going to the tribal court and paying a small fee to change the record.  Which allows them to take on a new identity.  Family identity is important to the European and western traditions, but to Indians, it is an individual identity.  Western man puts great stock in his ancestral line.  That ties in with the whole idea of royal descent, genealogy, the land you came from.  All cultures have their own forms of identification, and the Indians have their naming traditions are described in this report.  Take Long Standing Bear Chief for example, according to his book, which this report is based on, his Indian name is Bear Chief.  It was given to him years ago by a Blackfoot elder named Many Guns.  His name was changed to Long Standing Bear Chief to identify him from other young people who have been given that name of Bear Chief.  The name Bear Chief was given to him when he was a young man.  This is one way to acquire a name.

Indian names can also come about from events in history, spiritual events and by being honored through a Give Away ceremony.  There are even people who give names if asked, and the person receiving the name will offer a gift for a name.  However, the person receiving the name asks a person they respect to name them.  Sometimes the gift is money, not  For it's not a purchase, but a gift showing respect and honor to the person giving that name.

In all respect, the naming is an important event to an Indian because if makes him/her a special individual and tells something about them as a person.  At least that's what I got out of this chapter in Long Standing Bear Chief's book.  It signifies a belief that is both strong and pure to each individual, and is never taken lightly.  No wonder people who know something about the Indian cultures tell me that my Indian name is one of honor.  Morning Star is of great significant meaning.  It is what I consider an honor and privilege to have.


There are still Indian chiefs among the various tribes, but there are probably not as many as long ago.  In most tribes now, Tribal councils govern the daily activities of the reservation life.  The name Chief is English in origin.  The Blackfoot language, the title approximates the meaning of a father.  A man known to be both kind and generous, and by other virtues, he is a public speaker to represent the desires of his people in an unselfish manner.  The chief can be the head of a large, extended family, called a clan.

Many years ago, there were war chiefs and chiefs who were leaders in times of peace.  Mainly it was the duty of the chiefs to be leaders who sought and carried out a peaceful life.  War chiefs had power only for short period of time among the Plains Indians, and there were no permanent war leaders.  They were not chiefs because they were warriors, and the person might have been a spiritual person, not necessarily a warrior.

The Buffalo

The buffalo is looked upon as being the animal given to the Indian people by the Creator.  The correct name is bison.  In Blackfoot, they say Enee meaning bison.  Bison were and still are very important because it provided the people of long ago with everything they needed for food, clothing, shelter, tools and ceremony.  Every part of the animal had a specific use.

For example, the shoulder blade of the animal became a hoe.  The ribs, when tied together in a special way, made a sled for small children to play with in winter.  And the tanned hide covered the people with warmth.  The hide, when used ceremonially, was cut up and painted different colors, which was used as an offering in the Sun Dance.  The dew claws, made into rattles, helped a dancer keep time and maintain rhythm.  The bones were crushed and the marrow boiled out.  This added to dried meat and berries to make pemmican, a very nutritious food.  No part of the bison was wasted.  Even the tongue was used ceremonially as an offering in the Honoring Lodge by dancers.  This ceremony is often referred to as the Sun Dance.

Many bones were shaped into arrowheads, awls, and other types of tools.  The bladders became water carriers, and the tendons were stretched and used like thread.  Bison was and still is looked upon as a sacred animal.

Hereford cattle cannot replace the bison, for one thing, there is a huge difference in taste between the Hereford and Bison.  There is less fat in bison meat and it is healthier.  I can vouch for this, because my husband I eat bison meat as often as we can afford to purchase the meat.  After my husband's heartache in December of 2000, the doctor's recommended bison and other wild games animals for a good source of healthier eating.  So the Indians have a point about it being healthier.

The Hereford cattle are not native to this country, and in the Indian ceremonial life they must use only things native to this country, not introduced.  For this reason, the bison are most important to the Indian as a ceremonial offering.  As my husband once explained it to me, "The bison was everything from soup to nuts in the Indian life of long ago.  That I know of, they still have all rights to hunt bison for food and ceremonial purposes."  How true this is, we're not sure.  Dried tongue is used in ceremonies even today, according to Long Standing Bear Chief, because many ceremonies are being practiced.  So for these reasons this animal is still very important.  The meat from the bison is usually distributed among the needy and the elderly on the reservation.

The Blackfoot in Montana are very appreciative to the State of Montana and the Yellowstone National Park officials for giving them bison that are killed by rangers in order to reduce the herds or prevent the spread of brucellosis.  Brucellosis is a contagious disease affecting cattle, goats, swine (pigs), and, to a lesser extent, other animals and man.  It is caused by bacteria, usually infecting the reproductive organs and leading to abortion and sterility.  Commonly known as Bang's disease in animals, and in people, it is called Undulant fever.

Fasting and Visions

Fasting.  Indian people still fast and seek visions, individually or as members of small groups.  Fasting is still very important for the spiritual life of Indian people.  Indian people fast during Sun Dance ceremonies, and often use the Sweat Lodge as a place to fast.  The fast is for men and women in the Blackfoot culture.  They usually seek something from the Creator, or if there is thanksgiving, they will stay in the Sweat Lodge and fast for one or as many days as the individual deems necessary to fulfill their obligation and give thanks.

Visions.  Seeking visions is still important for the Blackfoot people because they are making vows, and so in, in their quest for spiritual togetherness with the Creator, visions are important.  The only requirement for vision seeking is that the participant be prepared.  However, age is not necessarily a factor.  Visions have been known to come to young children who have not undergone the rituals for preparation.  This is a special blessing from the Creator.

Usually, vision seeking is a male responsibility only because of the strenuous hardships that must be endured.  It really does not matter so much what the person goes, so long as the person feels comfortable.  Chief Mountain, on the Blackfoot Reservation and in Glacier National Park is a traditional place for vision seeking.  A person can go into the hills, or even fast and seek their vision in one's own back yard, if their want to.

Wherever Indians are doing something ceremonial, that place becomes sacred, in fact, the entire earth and everything about it is sacred, not one place more than the other.  Although some people many prefer to go into the mountains because they say then they are closer to the Creator and there is less to disturb them.  Plus, this way, they are secluded in nature and away from mankind's building and stresses.  This is only one reason why the Indians would go to the mountains today to fast and seek visions.  And you have to understand, that the entire earth is sacred and whatever they decide to do in a ceremonial way then that place becomes sacred.  Even their modern homes are sacred if they choose to treat them that way.

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