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Pikuni (Peigan)

The customary name used to describe this Blackfoot tribe in Canada is "Peigan" while the name of the American tribe is "Piegan." However, the name the people use when referring to themselves is Pikuni. Like the Siksiksa and Kainah, the Pikuni speak a dialect of the Blackfoot language. Writes Russell: "It is not possible to identify the various members of the Blackfoot Nation and their allies before the 1760s since until then they were all simply referred to as Archithinue, as were their enemies further west.

However, Saukamapee's account shows the Pikuni, at least, were an identifiable group in the 1730s who were allied with the Cree and Assiniboin. This alliance is found throughout the historical records until the late 1700s (Russell, p. 214). Saukamapee was a Cree (born c.1707 near what is now The Pas, Manitoba) who was adopted by the Pikuni and who later recounted information about the Pikuni to explorer David Thompson.

Based on David Thompson's account. Milloy places the Blackfoot, "with the Peigan suffering the brunt of the Snake advance," retreating to the east of Eagle Hills in 1723. And later, "In the winter of 1772, the Peigan sent out a call for help to all the tribes of the Blackfoot nation" (Milloy, p. 7).

After retaking territory to the southwest, Milloy suggests that the Blackfoot blockaded the Kootenay (now west of the Rockies) from contact with fur traders so as to prevent them getting arms. "When the Piegan (sic) realized that Thompson had slipped through their blockade, they crossed the mountains, found the post (Kootenay House), lay siege to it for three weeks, and then departed" (Milloy, p. 14).

Milloy suggests that the return of the Kootenay over the mountains to periodically hunt the buffalo in the early 1800s was the result of the Kootenay having acquired guns through the fur trade - the very thing which the Pikuni (Peigan) had tried to prevent (Milloy, p. 15).

Today the Pikuni is the smallest of the three Blackfoot tribes in Alberta although, combined with Piegan across the border in the United States, it is actually bigger than the others (Dempsey, p. 29).


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