Piegan Blackfeet

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Piegan Blackfeet
Total population
(2010 census: total of 105,304 (alone and in combination)[1])
Regions with significant populations
United States United States
English, Blackfoot
Christianity, Traditional beliefs
Related ethnic groups
other Blackfoot peoples (Kainai and Siksika Nations), and Algonquian peoples

The Piegan (Blackfoot: Piikáni) are an Algonquian people from the North American Great Plains. They were the largest of three Blackfoot-speaking groups that made up the Blackfoot Confederacy; the Siksika and the Kainai were the others. The Piegan dominated much of the northern plains during the nineteenth century.

After their homelands were divided by the nations of Canada and the United States of America making boundaries between them, the Piegan people were forced to sign treaties with one of those two countries, settle in reservations on one side or the other of the border, and be enrolled in one of two government-like bodies sanctioned by North American nation-states. These two successor groups are the Blackfeet Nation a "federally-recognized tribe" in Montana, USA and the Piikani Nation, a recognized "Indian band" in Alberta, Canada.

Today many Piegan live on the Blackfeet Reservation in northwestern Montana, with tribal headquarters in Browning. There were 32,234 Blackfeet counted by the 1990 US census.[2] In 2010 the US Census reported 105,304 persons identified as Blackfeet ("alone" or "in combination" with one or more races and/or tribes.)[1]


The Piegan (also known as the Pikuni, Pikani, and Piikáni) are one of the three original tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy (a "tribe" here refers to an ethnic or cultural group with a shared name and identity). The Piegan are closely related to the Kainai Nation (also known as the "Blood Tribe"), and the Siksika Nation (also called the "Blackfoot Nation"); together they are sometimes collectively referred to as "the Blackfoot" or "the Blackfoot Confederacy". Ethnographic literature most commonly uses "Blackfoot people", and Canadian Blackfoot people use the singular Blackfoot. The tribal governments and the US government use the term "Blackfeet", as in Blackfeet Indian Reservation and Blackfeet Nation, as used on their official tribe website. The term Siksika, derived from Siksikáíkoan (a Blackfoot person), may also be used as self-identification. In English, an individual may say, "I am Blackfoot" or "I am a member of the Blackfeet tribe."[3]

Traditionally, Plains peoples were divided into "bands": groups of families who migrated together for hunting and defence. The bands of the Piegan, as given by Grinnell, are : Ahahpitape, Ahkaiyikokakiniks, Kiyis, Sikutsipmaiks, Sikopoksimaiks, Tsiniksistsoyiks, Kutaiimiks, Ipoksimaiks, Silkokitsimiks, Nitawyiks, Apikaiviks, Miahwahpitsiks, Nitakoskitsipupiks, Nitikskiks, Inuksiks, Miawkinaiyiks, Esksinaitupiks, Inuksikahkopwaiks, Kahmitaiks, Kutaisotsiman, Nitotsiksisstaniks, Motwainaiks, Mokumiks, and Motahtosiks. Hayden gives also Susksoyiks.[4]

Since the 1870s, Piegan people have been members of either the Blackfeet Nation in the US or the Piikani Nation (Northern Piegan) in Canada. They are closely related to the Kainai (also known as the Blood) and the Siksika nations. All speak dialects of the Blackfoot language and are sometimes collectively referred to as the Blackfoot or the Blackfoot Confederacy. Ethnographic literature most commonly uses "Blackfoot people", and Canadian Blackfoot people use the singular term of 'Blackfoot.' The US and tribal governments in that nation officially use "Blackfeet", as in Blackfeet Indian Reservation and Blackfeet Nation.[3]

Relations and history

File:Jackie larson bread blackfeet.jpg
Jackie Larson Bread (enrolled Blackfeet Tribe of Montana) with her award-winning beadwork
Black Bear (enrolled Blackfeet Tribe of Montana), ceramic artist, educator, and youth advocate

In 2014, researchers reported on their sequencing of the DNA of a 12,500+-year-old infant skeleton in west-central Montana,[5] found in close association with several Clovis culture artifacts. It showed strong affinities with all existing Native American populations.[6]

There is preliminary evidence of human habitation in north central Montana that may date as far back as 5000 years.[7] There was evidence that the people had made substantial use of buffalo jumps from as early as AD 300.[8]

The Piegan people may be more recent arrivals in the area, as there is strong evidence that their Algonquian-speaking ancestors migrated southwest from what today is Saskatchewan beginning about 1730.[9] Before that, they may have lived further east, as many Algonquian-speaking peoples have historically lived along the Atlantic Coast, and others around the Great Lakes.

Linguistic studies of the Blackfoot language in comparison to others in the Algonquian-language family indicate that the Blackfoot had long lived in an area west of the Great Lakes[citation needed]. Like others in this language family, the Blackfoot language is agglutinative.

The people practiced some agriculture and were partly nomadic. They moved westward after they adopted use of horses and guns, which gave them a larger range for bison hunting. They became part of the Plains Indians cultures in the early 19th century. According to tribal oral histories, humans lived near the Rocky Mountain Front for thousands of years before European contact.[10][11] The Blackfoot creation story is set near Glacier National Park in an area now known as the "Badger-Two Medicine".

The introduction of the horse is placed at about 1730, when raids by the Shoshoni prompted the Piegan to obtain horses from the Kutenai, Salish and Nez Perce.[12] Early accounts of contact with European-descended people date to the late eighteenth century. The fur trader James Gaddy and the Hudson's Bay Company explorer David Thompson, the first Whites recorded as seeing Bow River, camped with a group of Piegan during the 1787-1788 winter.[13]

In 1900, there were an estimated 20,000 Blackfoot. In the early 21st century, there are more than 35,000. The population was at times dramatically lower when the Blackfeet people suffered declines due to infectious disease epidemics. They had no natural immunity to Eurasian diseases, and the 1837 smallpox epidemic on the Plains killed 6,000 Blackfeet, as well as thousands more in other tribes. The Blackfoot also suffered from starvation because of disruption of food supplies and war. When the last buffalo hunt failed in 1882, that year became known as the starvation year.

The Blackfeet had controlled large portions of Alberta and Montana. Today the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana is the size of Delaware, and the three Blackfoot reserves in Alberta have a much smaller area.[3]

The Blackfeet hold belief "in a sacred force that permeates all things, represented symbolically by the sun whose light sustains all things."[2]

The Blackfoot do not have well documented male Two-Spirits, but they do have "manly-hearted women".[14] These were recorded as acting in many of the social roles of men. This includes a willingness to sing alone, usually considered "immodest", and using a men's singing style.[15]

In 1858 the Piegan in the United States were estimated to number 3,700. Three years later, Hayden estimated the population at 2,520. In 1906 there were 2,072 under the Blackfeet Agency in Montana, and 493 under the Piegan band in Alberta, Canada. In the 2010 census, 105,304 people identified as Piegan Blackfeet, 27,279 of them full-blooded, the remainder self-identified as being of more than one race or, in some cases, with ancestry from more than one tribe, but they primarily identified as Blackfeet.[1]

For histories after the 1870s see the 'Blackfeet Nation' in the US or the 'Piikani Nation' in Canada.

Notable Piegan

  • Helen Piotopowaka Clarke (1846 – 1923) actress, educator, and bureaucrat who was one of the first women elected to public office in Montana.
  • Stephen Graham Jones (1972- ), author, won a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and the Independent Publisher Book Award for Multicultural Fiction, and other awards. At public readings he has said that his short story "Bestiary" is not fiction.[16]
  • James Welch (1940–2003), US author and poet. While most of his published works were novels, he also wrote the non-fiction historical account, Killing Custer: The Battle of Little Bighorn and the Fate of the Plains Indians. He was one of the participants in the PBS American Experience documentary, Last Stand at Little Bighorn. His award-winning novel Fools Crow is based on the Blackfeet tribe and its culture.

Books about the Blackfeet

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "2010 Census CPH-T-6. American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes in the United States and Puerto Rico: 2010" (PDF). census.gov. Retrieved 2015. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Blackfeet Religion: Doctrines", University of Cumbria: Overview of World Religions. (retrieved 6 June 2009)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Nettl, Bruno (1989). Blackfoot Musical Thought: Comparative Perspectives. Ohio: The Kent State University Press. ISBN 0-87338-370-2.
  4. The Indian Tribes of North America, p 396
  5. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  6. "Ancient American's genome mapped". BBC News. 2014-02-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Buffalo Jump Expansion Unearths Gems", Great Falls Tribune. 27 March 2011, Accessed 2011-05-12.
  8. Ulm Pishkun State Park Management Plan: Final. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. December 2005, p. 2.
  9. "Montana Indians" Their History and Location" (PDF). Montana Office of Public Instruction.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  11. Grinnell, George Bird George Bird Grinnell Blackfoot Lodge Tales "Blackfoot Lodge Tales", (BiblioBazaar, 2006) ISBN 978-1-4264-4744-0
  12. [1]
  13. Armtsrong, Christopher; Evenden, Matthew; Nelles, H. V. (2009). The River Returns: An Environmental History of the Bow. Montreal: McGill UP. p. 3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Lewis, 1941
  15. Nettl, 1989, p.84, 125
  16. Stephen Graham Jones, "Bestiary", Wordriot website
  17. "George Bird Grinnell", Minnesota State University, Mankato, (retrieved 6 June 2009)
  18. Hanna, Warren L. (1988). "James Willard Schultz-The Pikuni Storyteller". Stars over Montana-Men Who Made Glacier National Park History. West Glacier, MT: Glacier Natural History Association. pp. 95–111. ISBN 9780091679064.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Dempsey, Hugh A. and Lindsay Moir. Bibliography of the Blackfoot, (Native American Bibliography Series, No. 13) Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1989, ISBN 0-8108-2211-3
  • Ewers, John C. The Blackfeet: Raiders on the Northwestern Plains, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1958 (and later reprints). ISBN 0-8061-0405-8
  • Johnson, Bryan R. The Blackfeet: An Annotated Bibliography, New York: Garland Publishing, 1988. ISBN 0-8240-0941-X

External links