The Siksika Nation - Customs and Traditions
As with other Plains First Nations, Siksika custom and tradition was centred on a seasonal round of hunting and gathering activities. The hunting of plains bison and the dependence of the people on the bounty of the land determined the shape and meaning of life. The movements of bison herds, growth seasons of valuable plants, and seasonal climate changes all guided Siksika bands in their travels.
Spring was a time of preparation for the Siksika. At the first peal of thunder, medicine bundles were opened and prayers and fastings were undertaken to ensure a good year for the people. Spring camps were packed up and supplies were gathered in anticipation of a summer on the plains. Summer was the time of harvest and the time of the ookaan, a ceremony of prayers, fasting, and offering attended by all the bands of the Siksika. Relatives were reunited at this time, berries were harvested, and game was hunted throughout the summer days. The Siksika were constantly on the move across the prairies following coulees towards rivers and the animals drawn to the water.
In the autumn, the Siksika bands gathered together once more to engage in a communal hunt. Bison were killed in large numbers so that everyone would have supplies that would ensure survival through the winter. Bison meat was dried and prayers were offered to ensure a peaceful winter. When winter did come, the Siksika moved down into valleys and coulees to gain shelter for their camps. Whatever game could be captured at this time was hunted as a means to help maintain the people as they awaited the spring.
For the Siksika a traditional hunting and trapping ground was the land along the Bow River, surrounding the Castle Mountain near Banff. This area was also a main source of wood for construction and fuel. Siksika families would camp in the area, and they gathered wood and supplies for future food and shelter needs. Each year, the Siksika would return to this land to gather supplies before venturing out on the open plains, following the bison herds.
The Siksika followed traditional Blackfoot custom in the erecting of their tipi shelters. Tipis followed the pattern of design also practiced by the Kainai and Piikani; they were based around four main poles tied at one end and spread out into a wide square at the bottom. Additional supporting poles were added to this basic structure, and a hide covering was attached to the frame. The Siksika would build their tipis so that the front entrance of the tipi faced east, towards the rising sun. This practice reflected the Siksika belief in the sun as the main source of life.
As was typical of a nomadic people, early Siksika travel was on foot. Camp supplies were moved with the help of dogs harnessed to a frame wooden platforms, or travois. After the 1700s, the horse was introduced to the Siksika and this made travel, moving camp, and hunting much easier.
Siksika artwork was similar to that practiced by other Blackfoot cultures. Quill-work was a highly respected art form and was considered a sacred activity. Tipi covers were painted with designs that reflected the owner of the tipi and their relationship with the spirit world. As such, the designs on tipis were more than mere decoration. Tipi designs had special meaning to the Siksika, and the rights to continue using these designs had to transferred to the new owner of the tipi cover when the time came for the previous owner to give it up.