January 17th, 2021

Traditional ways of living

By Submitted Article on August 25, 2020.

SUBMITTED BY THE galt museum and archives

There are four nations of Niitsitapi, the Kainai, Piikani, Siksika and Amskapi Pikuni (Blackfeet in Montana). Together these nations are known as the Siksikaitsitapi (Blackfoot Confederacy). The four nations share customs, language and beliefs.

Traditional Blackfoot territory extends from the North Saskatchewan River down to the Yellowstone River, and from the Rocky Mountains in the west to the Great Sand Hills in the east. Political boundaries in this territory were defined by watersheds and river tracts, rather than arbitrary property lines.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, food was abundant on the Prairies. It is estimated that there were upward of 70 million bison on the plains, as well as great numbers of elk, deer, antelope, moose and diverse flora and fauna.

Niitsitapi were a’pawaawahkao’p (always on the move), and all travel was for a purpose. Prior to the introduction of the horse from the Shoshone people who acquired them from Spanish, Niitsitapi used wolves to pull travois as a means of transporting goods related to harvests, trade and ceremony. Wolves were captured, tamed and trained as pups. People would go to the wolf dens, wait for the adult wolves to leave, and insert sticks from the rose bush. They would move the sticks around until the thorns caught in the fur of the pups, and then they would pull out the rose sticks with a pup attached to them.

Niitsitapi had well-established trade relationships with other First Nations prior to the fur trade, and a different economic culture. They did not engage in trading for a profit, but rather understood exchange as a form of building and maintaining good relationships.

Fort Whoop-Up tells the story of how the arrival of European traders and settlers changed these traditional ways of living of the Niitsitapi. 2020 marks 150 years since Fort Whoop-Up was established.

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