The powerful Blackfeet Confederacy once controlled a huge expanse of the Northeastern High Plains. The three major bands: Siksika meaning “those with black-dyed moccasins”, The Blood meaning “painted bodies with red clay”, and the Piegan meaning “poorly dressed”. Plus the Gros Ventre and Sarcee are also included.
The Blackfeet adapted to nomadic life on the open grasslands, with buffalo meat as their main food source. They also gathered wild plants such as berries and chokecherries. They moved their camps of hide-covered tipis to new hunting grounds when necessary. During the cold northern winters they generally stayed in one place.
The Blackfeet are known for their beautiful craftwork- tipis, horse equipment, clothes, tools and weapons. Like many Plains tribes, they practiced the sundance, but women participated in the Blackfeet version. The Vision Quests was also critical for the Blackfeet in the passage from childhood to adulthood.
The Blackfeet were enemies of the Crow, Sioux, Kootenai and Flathead Indians. Blackfeet war parties would ride hundreds of miles on raids. Early contacts with non-Indians were friendly until the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Smallpox epidemics in the mid 1800’s, along with the decline of the buffalo herds, greatly weakened the Blackfoot Confederacy.
Today the North Blackfoot, Blood and North Piegan have rights to ancestral homelands in Alberta. The Southern Piegans have a reservation in Montana with the tribal headquarters being in the town of Browning. The Blackfeet have been attempting to protect a sacred site known as Badger Two-Medicine from Oil and gas companies seeking to drill on this site. The Blackfeet and other tribes have held Sun Dances, Vision Quests and sweats there since pre-horse times.