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Elders Voices
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The Blackfoot people call themselves Niitsitapi, "the real people". Their language, Blackfoot, or Niitsipussin ("the real language"), falls under the Algonquian language family, along with Ojibway, Micmac, and Cree.

Anthropological records hypothesize that, unlike the Cree Peoples, the Blackfoot have a pre-contact history in the southern part of what is now Alberta. They were divided into three distinct groups: the Siksika (which translates to Black Foot, after the Blackfoot custom of dying their moccasins black), the Kainai (meaning Many Chiefs), also known as Bloods, and the Peigan, or Piikani (Poor Robe). These tribes regarded each other as allies, and together they formed the Blackfoot Confederacy. Today, the groups together are known as the Blackfoot Nation.

The Blackfoot Peoples lived (and many continue to live) in structured and cohesive social units called bands, which were made up of between 80 to 240 people. The bands were well-organized culturally and politically, and the Niitsitapi earned a reputation as ‘the Lords of the Great Plains’. Most of the band units were egalitarian in structure, although leaders could be chosen based on the situation. For example, a strong hunter could become the leader of a hunt, but might not have leadership in other areas. Overall, the movement of people between different bands was fluid, as bands were defined by place of residence rather than kinship ties. Movement of people between bands often occurred as a result of marriage.

As was the case for other plains groups, the movement of the Blackfoot Peoples across the land was dictated by buffalo. The buffalo was central to life, and buffalo jumps, such as the one still visible at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, were major fixtures in the lives of the Blackfoot people. The importance of the buffalo to past Aboriginal life at this site is still visible today, buried in the layers of dust and dirt. Here, thousands of buffalo bones have been found, among ancient burial sites and remnants of tools, tipi rings, and other items necessary for daily life. These remains serve as a testament to the activity that took place here for hundreds of generations.

Independent and very efficient, the Blackfoot represented a powerful hunting society in the time of the buffalo. They were known for their strong military and political organization. However, European contact had a large influence on almost all aspects of traditional Blackfoot life. The introduction of the horse brought with it many changes to agricultural and transportation practices. Yet, the traditional ways of the Blackfoot Peoples were not lost forever, and Blackfoot Elders continue to pass on stories of the "Real People" to the younger generations.



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