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Blackfoot Traditions

Tipi Warriors
Peigan tipi interior.
This archival photograph shows the spacious interior of a ceremonial tipi.
Ceremonial items, including medicine bundles, hang from the tipi poles.
Photo from Public Archives Canada. Photo by E.S. Curtis.

Algonquian speakers of the Plains region are the Blackfoot, Blood, Pikunai, Cree, and Plains Ojibwa (Saulteux). The bison was the main source of food and goods on the Plains. It was so fundamental to the survival of the Plains people that it was the highest ranking of the animal spirits. The bison was a special gift from the creator and its body parts were attributed with special powers. Its skull was decorated and used in religious rituals, and the heart was eaten raw just after the kill. The bison were central symbols in dances, superstitions, taboos, secret societies, visions, and in cures for illness. The communal bison hunt was a time to gather meat for preservation, but it was also a time for social gathering. A special feast was held at the site of the bison hunt and fresh meat was prepared by roasting it over hot stones.

The military societies of the Blackfoot, known collectively as the aiinikiks, or All-Comrades, had one or two leaders who sat on the tribal council when the various groups united during the summer. Membership in the All-Comrades was by purchase only. Promotion in the various societies was basically graded by age. Every four years a man could sell his membership to a younger man and purchase that of an older man in the next appropriate society. Every grade, however, had to include at least four elderly men amongst its members so that wise counsel and experience were available at each stage.

In the funeral rites of the Plains cultures a corpse was wrapped in hide and laid on a platform raised on poles or placed in a tree. The scaffold kept the corpse out of reach of animals. There is also evidence of family members removing bones and placing them in the ground. The deceased were dressed in their finest clothes and the bodies were sewn into buffalo robes and placed in the fork of a tree. Remaining relatives mourned the deceased by cutting their hair, wearing old clothes, and smearing their faces with white clay.

Web Page Courtesy of:  Nativetech: Native American Technology and Art

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