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The Tsuu T'ina Nation - Customs and Traditions

Tsuu T’ina tipi

The Tsuu T’ina (Sarcee) had rich cultural traditions and customs that are similar to the member tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy. For example, like the Kainai (Blood), Siksika (Blackfoot), and Piikani (Peigan), the Tsuu T’ina were a hunter-gather culture who based their culture and lifestyle around the hunting of the bison. Bison was either hunted communally, in which a large group of hunters would drive bison into pounds; stampede them over cliffs, or buffalo jumps; or hunt on horseback, attacking the bison with bows and arrows, and later, rifles.

The bison was central for the Tsuu T’ina’s survival, for not only was the meat used for food, but the hide was used for clothing, the sinews for bow strings, and bones for tools. Other animals hunted by the Tsuu T’ina included deer, moose, antelope, beaver, and various fowl except eagles because they held spiritual significance for the Tsuu T’ina. Vegetation such as berries, chokecherries, blueberries, and cranberries were also picked. Pemmican was another staple food. This traditional Native meal is made from dried meat and tallow, and was produced during the summer months when the bands congregated into large camps.

Even during the reserve period of the late 1880s, the Tsuu T’ina maintained their traditional social structure. They were divided into bands that were comprised of closely-related families. Each band had a chief and a tribal chief. The latter was chosen based on his warrior ingenuity and leadership abilities. The Tsuu T’ina had five distinct bands that continued to exist into the early 20th century.

During the fall, winter, and spring months, each band would separate and hunt the buffalo. In the summer, the bands would emerge from the woods and assemble in large camps on the prairies. During the summer months pemmican would be produced, stories, legends and myths recounted, and spiritual ceremonies were enacted. The Sun Dance was especially significant for the Tsuu T’ina, as were Powwows, medicine bundle transfers, Potlatch ceremonies, and the painting of tipis. Even during the strict epoch in which the federal government imposed laws on the Natives which forbade them to participate in spiritual ceremonies, the Tsuu T’ina continued to practice their spiritual ceremonies “underground,” away from the watchful eye of Indian Agents. By mid-August the bands would separate once again and follow the bison into the depths of the wooded forests.

The family unit was central to the Tsuu T’ina as well. When a bride and groom got married, there was an exchange of gifts between families. There was often a dowry paid for the bride, this usually consisted of horses and clothes. If however the groom could not afford his bride, he lived with his new wife’s band and worked off his debt. In Tsuu T’ina culture, the man had to support his wife’s parents, but the culture also condoned polygamy.

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