The Blackfoot people live in the northern Plains in Alberta, Canada, and Montana, USA. We are made up of three groups: The Siksika were usually found in the north and eastern part of the territory. This name translates as Blackfoot. The Kainai lived in the central part of the territory. Kainai means Many Leaders. We are also known as the Bloods. The Pikani camped along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and the southern edge of the territory. Today they are divided into the Amsskaapipikani (Southern Pikani) in Montana and the Apatohsipikani (Northern Pikani) in southwestern Alberta.


Although we all share a common language and culture, there are differences among our tribes in some of our practices.

Traditionally, our people were nomadic. We travelled constantly throughout our Territory, hunting game and collecting plants. In the past, we were not united in any formal alliance, but because the three divisions often supported one another, many people referred to us as the Blackfoot Confederacy. Today we live a modern life Read More

The Blackfoot people live in the northern Plains in Alberta, Canada, and Montana, USA. We are made up of three groups:

  • The Siksika were usually found in the north and eastern part of the territory. This name translates as Blackfoot.
  • The Kainai lived in the central part of the territory. Kainai means Many Leaders. We are also known as the Bloods.
  • The Pikani camped along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and the southern edge of the territory. Today they are divided into the Amsskaapipikani (Southern Pikani) in Montana and the Apatohsipikani (Northern Pikani) in southwestern Alberta.


Although we all share a common language and culture, there are differences among our tribes in some of our practices.

Traditionally, our people were nomadic. We travelled constantly throughout our Territory, hunting game and collecting plants. In the past, we were not united in any formal alliance, but because the three divisions often supported one another, many people referred to us as the Blackfoot Confederacy. Today we live a modern life on four reserves in the United States and Canada, and we work together to find ways to keep our culture alive.

We call ourselves Nitsitapii, although we are known as the Blackfoot. We have many stories of the Spomi-tapi-ksi (the Sky Beings) who are part of our world and who have helped us and taught us many important lessons. The Spomi-tapi-ksi guide us on our journeys and define the seasons.

All beings must coexist to survive in the world. The Spomi-tapi-ksi stories are used to teach respect for all of life and to encourage peaceful coexistence. We have many stories about people who have died and become stars. These stories remind us of proper behaviours.


© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Chief Mountain, Montana

The Rocky Mountains form the western boundary to our territory.

Glenbow Museum

Chief Mountain, Montana, UNITED STATES
© Glenbow Museum


Earl Old Person

My name is Earl Old Person and I am the chief and chairman of the Blackfeet tribe and the Blackfeet reservation in Browning, Montana. We listen to our people, our parents, our grand parents talk about things that have happened in the past and the things that we see today.

Canadian Heritage Information Network

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003


Introduction

That signifies those things that took place. Which some of our lodges that we have there are paintings on the lodges that signifies some of the stories that were told. We have a tipi that has the stars on the tipi flaps. Some of those stars that are displayed or painted on the tipis are the stars that people call The Seven Brothers or they are called Big Dipper also Great Bear. But this was the story of seven brothers that left, drifted away from their home and were lost from their home. While they were journeying and trying to find a place, they come to a beautiful tipi lodge, a woman that lived within this lodge. And of course, the older brother probably wanted to be with this woman, so they got together. It wasn’t very long that he knew this lady was not the woman to be with. She became very rude, things that she done wasn’t very good. And so she began to go after his brothers. And so, he was afraid for them. He was trying to warn them somehow that this woman was not the lady to be with. But somehow after they had found a way to get away from her, to escape from her, they did. And when they escaped, they went on to what we called Heavens. We look at them sometimes as people of our people that have gone before us into the heavens. And people see those stars today, the Big Dipper today like you see on those tipis, the tipi flaps.

Also, we have the bunch stars [Pleaides], they were neglected boys. These five boys, their father I guess they looked to their father when he goes hunting then he brings back the buffalo. And this one time, he failed to do that, failed to bring the unborn buffalo. So they were upset and so they got together and were recognized as the bunch stars. And they were gone away from their family, they were also gone into the heavens. But they would come back certain time of the year but they would leave again. People today they look up into the skies and they will see those five stars and they refer to them as the bunch stars. At nighttime you look up into the skies you’ll see a streak across the skies [the Milky Way]. It looks like a trail and then that’s what it is. That was the wolf trail people call it today Makoi-yohsokoyi. The wolves would come they would live with the people and they showed the people many things, how to come together with other animals and be with other animals. But the wolves were very close to the people and they were also known for going into the skies. And leaving the trails as they came to help and be with the people that were on the earth, teaching them many things and how to get acquainted and be with the animals that they were able to introduce them to. That was the wolf trail. Today, tonight or any night you look across when it’s clear you’ll see that wolf trail.

Canadian Heritage Information Network

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003


In this Blackfoot story from the North American Plains, six children felt neglected by their parents. They went up to the sky to become the Six Lost Boys, the Pleiades.

Oki, hi, my name is Clifford Crane Bear that’s what I am known in the white man’s world my real name is Naam-ikkaya’yi [Fast Runner], my grandfather’s name. Today, I am going to talk a little bit about the shields, the story that my grandfather told me. There is six feathers here or else you can say there is seven this way and all this. But six brothers, six feathers again. A long time ago there was this young man. This young man, as his father was going out to hunt some buffalos. The young man runs after his father and he says "father, when you go out and get the buffalo can you bring me back the unborn buffalo". The father looks at his son and says "I will". The father leaves. Late that evening, that night when the father comes back from his hunt, the young boy runs back to greet his father. He runs back and he says "father, where is my unborn buffalo calf?" The father stands there and says "oh, I forgot". He walks away and goes into his tipi. The young boy stands around there and he is looking very hurt, very sad because of what his father. He thinks to himself and he says "my father doesn’t love me, my father neglects me." I don’t want to be at a place where I am not loved. So the young man turns around and he walks out to the prairie. When he walks out to the prairie he sees five boys and he approaches them he goes to them he says "what are you guys doing out here by yourselves?" The five boys replied: "we asked our fathers to bring us back the unborn buffalo calf but our fathers didn’t. We don’t want to live at a place where we are not wanted, we are unloved, we are neglected. So the six lost boys the six boys they go out to the prairie. So they didn’t want to go back to their fathers so they started to thinking what shall we be what shall we do. One of them said we should be six giant trees. No somebody’s gonna come along chop us down and we’ll be gone. Well, we should be six lakes, no, no, no, no, we gonna dry up one of these years. Another boy says we should be six swans. No, somebody gonna shoot at us and kill us all up. One of the young boys looked up to the sky and he says we should go up to the heavens where we can be there and we can look down on our people. What a great idea, they said. So they went up to the heavens. To this day we can still see them. These six lost boys in the springtime when the buffalos are starting to be born, these six lost boys they disappear. When in the fall and the winter starts to come and the buffalos are starting to turn darker, then the six lost boys come on out to see them. Because they were never allowed to see the, they were not brought back the unborn buffalo calves so these young boys never come out or never see the unborn buffalo calves, ah just only till they get a little bit older. Then my grandfather would finish the story and he would say to me "Tsiki [my son] when you get older and you have a family of your own. When you get mad at your children go out, look up to the heavens and you will see those stars. Those stars all of a lot of them it’s those children that were neglected, children that were punished or not loved by their parents. All are up there. So it’s a reminder never to neglect your children. Those are the six lost boys".

As told by Clifford Crane Bear, Siksika

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003


Buffalo Tail Necklace

When bison are first born, they are yellow in colour. The six buffalo tails on this necklace are symbolic of the story of the six children who went up to the sky to become the Bunch Stars, also known as Pleiades. Old Sun, leader of the Medicine Man Clan of the northern Siksika wore this necklace when he was a child. It reminds adults not to neglect the wishes of their children.

Siksika
Glenbow Museum
c. mid 1800s
Necklace
AF 358
© Glenbow Museum


Shield

Warriors often painted images of their deeds on their shields. The zig-zag lines and half-circles indicate the number of times the owner was a scout on a raiding party. The buffalo figure connects the owner to the power of the buffalo. The six feathers remind us of the story of the six lost boys who became the Bunch Stars.

Siksika
Glenbow Museum
c. 1900
AF 763
© Glenbow Museum


According to the Blackfoot of the North American Plains, there was once a camp of 10 lodges. In one of them lived a family of nine children, seven boys and two girls. While the six older brothers were away on the war-path, the eldest girl, Bear Skin Woman, married a grizzly bear. Her father was so angered that, with the help of the others, he surrounded the grizzly’s cave and killed him. When Bear Skin Woman found out about her husband’s death, she changed into a huge grizzly bear, becoming Bear Skin Woman. She attacked the camp, killing everyone, including her father and mother. She spared her youngest brother and sister. The two were greatly frightened when they overheard her talking to herself, planning how she might kill them. One day, when the younger sister went to the river for water, she met her six brothers returning from the war-path. She told them what danger they were in, and they planned to rescue her. She gathered many prickly pears and was instructed to place them in front of the lodge in such a way that there would be a safe way for the children to escape. The children left the lodge at midnight. When the older sister heard them leave, she followed, Read More

According to the Blackfoot of the North American Plains, there was once a camp of 10 lodges. In one of them lived a family of nine children, seven boys and two girls. While the six older brothers were away on the war-path, the eldest girl, Bear Skin Woman, married a grizzly bear. Her father was so angered that, with the help of the others, he surrounded the grizzly’s cave and killed him. When Bear Skin Woman found out about her husband’s death, she changed into a huge grizzly bear, becoming Bear Skin Woman. She attacked the camp, killing everyone, including her father and mother. She spared her youngest brother and sister. The two were greatly frightened when they overheard her talking to herself, planning how she might kill them. One day, when the younger sister went to the river for water, she met her six brothers returning from the war-path. She told them what danger they were in, and they planned to rescue her. She gathered many prickly pears and was instructed to place them in front of the lodge in such a way that there would be a safe way for the children to escape. The children left the lodge at midnight. When the older sister heard them leave, she followed, only to step on the prickly pears. Roaring with pain, she changed herself into a bear again and ran after her brothers. The younger brother had strong medicine powers.

When Bear Skin Woman overtook them, the younger brother shot an arrow into the air. Immediately the children found themselves just as far in advance of their sister as the arrow flew. Bear Skin Woman got close again, but the younger brother waved his medicine feather, which brought thick underbrush in her way. Then he made a lake come between them. Finally, in the last effort to escape, he made a large tree into which the seven brothers and their little sister climbed. But the grizzly knocked the four lowest from the tree. She was about to kill them when the younger brother waved his medicine feather and, singing a song, shot an arrow into the air. Immediately the little sister arose to the sky. He shot six arrows, and each time a brother went up. Finally the younger brother followed, and all of them together formed the family of the Seven Brothers. They took the same position in the sky that they had in the tree. The small star at one side of the handle is the younger sister, while the four at the bottom are the brothers who had been knocked from the tree by their sister, the grizzly.

- As told by Brings Down the Sun, Apatohsipikani.


© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Ursa Above the Earth

Night sky constellations, including the big dipper.

Joane CARDINAL-SCHUBERT, R.C.A.Canadian; First Nations; Blood (1942-)
Glenbow Collection, Purchased with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisitions Assistance Program and with the Glenbow Collections Endowment Fund
1987
oil pastel, watercolour, pencil on wove paper
20002000.002.001
© Glenbow Museum


Kainai Robe

Dick and Beth Soop show their decorated robe, Kainai, 1944. The robe represents the Bunch Stars, the Big Dipper and the Milky Way.

Glenbow Archives

NA 5550-10
© Glenbow Archives


Spomi-tapi-ksi (the Sky Beings) are part of our Blackfoot world. Natosi (Sun), his wife Kokomi kisomm (Moon), and their son Ipiso waahsa (Morning Star), gave our ancestors important sacred ceremonies to use whenever we need their help and guidance in our lives.

One of our ancient stories tells how a poor young man was marked with a terrible scar, so he was called Scarface.

The Blackfoot of the North American Plains believe that a poor young man called Scarface was marked with a terrible scar. He was rejected by the woman he wanted to marry and decided to travel far away to try and heal his scar. He travelled for many days, and eventually came to live with Natosi (Sun), Kokomi-kisomm (Moon) and Ipiso-waahsa (Morning Star). During his time with them he had many adventures and received many gifts, including the sweatlodge that Natosi used to heal Scarface, and a shield, bow and arrows. When Scarface left to return to his people, Natosi gave him a white buckskin suit decorated with beautiful quillwork and scalps to commemorate the timeScarface saved Morning Star from the Cranes. Natosi also gave Scarface the instructions for putting up the Holy Lodge, which is Read More
Spomi-tapi-ksi (the Sky Beings) are part of our Blackfoot world. Natosi (Sun), his wife Kokomi kisomm (Moon), and their son Ipiso waahsa (Morning Star), gave our ancestors important sacred ceremonies to use whenever we need their help and guidance in our lives.

One of our ancient stories tells how a poor young man was marked with a terrible scar, so he was called Scarface.

The Blackfoot of the North American Plains believe that a poor young man called Scarface was marked with a terrible scar. He was rejected by the woman he wanted to marry and decided to travel far away to try and heal his scar. He travelled for many days, and eventually came to live with Natosi (Sun), Kokomi-kisomm (Moon) and Ipiso-waahsa (Morning Star). During his time with them he had many adventures and received many gifts, including the sweatlodge that Natosi used to heal Scarface, and a shield, bow and arrows. When Scarface left to return to his people, Natosi gave him a white buckskin suit decorated with beautiful quillwork and scalps to commemorate the timeScarface saved Morning Star from the Cranes. Natosi also gave Scarface the instructions for putting up the Holy Lodge, which is done each year by a virtuous woman during the Sundance.

- As told by Earl Old Person, (Amsskaapipikani) or by Three Bears (Duvall).

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Falling Star Tipi Design

Shot Both Sides and Fred Tailfeathers stand in front of the Falling Star tipi, Kainai.

Glenbow Archives
1930s
NA 1241-869
© Glenbow Archives


Amulet

Navelcord amulet, Blackfoot, 1960s Children of wealthy families often had their umbilical cords sewn into special pouches; snake- shaped for boys; lizard-shaped for girls. The children wore these on their left shoulders, above their hearts. The star motif on this amulet kept the power of the Above Beings with the child and gave her courage in her young life.

Glenbow Museum
1960s
AF 4262
© Glenbow Museum


Sweat Lodges

One of our ancient stories tells how a man named Scarface travelled to live with Natosi (Sun), Kokomi-kisomm (Moon) and Ipiso-waahsa (Morning Star). During his time with them he had many adventures and received many gifts, including the sweatlodge and the bow and arrow.The sweatlodge is very important to our ceremonial life.

Glenbow Museum

AF 742
© Glenbow Museum


The Fixed Star, or North Star, is essential for navigation in the northern hemisphere.

The Woman who married Morning Star - This story explains how the North Star came into existence, and also how we received one of our most important ceremonies.

According to the Blackfoot people of the North American Plains, it was in the summertime when two girls went outside of their lodge to sleep. The girls awoke before day-break, and one of them said to the other, "I would like to marry that beautiful Star that shines so bright." Not long after, the same two girls were out gathering wood. They were about to start home with their bundles of wood, when one of the ropes broke on the bundle carried by the girl who wanted to marry the Star. As she was fixing it, a young man approached her and said he had come for her. Then the young man said to her, "I am Morning Star whom you said you would like to marry." He took her to his home with Natosi (Sun) and Kokomi-kisomm (Moon). After some time, she gave birth to a child. To pass the time, she would go out every day to dig roots and turnips. She could go anywhere in the sky, but her husband forbade her to di Read More
The Fixed Star, or North Star, is essential for navigation in the northern hemisphere.

The Woman who married Morning Star - This story explains how the North Star came into existence, and also how we received one of our most important ceremonies.

According to the Blackfoot people of the North American Plains, it was in the summertime when two girls went outside of their lodge to sleep. The girls awoke before day-break, and one of them said to the other, "I would like to marry that beautiful Star that shines so bright." Not long after, the same two girls were out gathering wood. They were about to start home with their bundles of wood, when one of the ropes broke on the bundle carried by the girl who wanted to marry the Star. As she was fixing it, a young man approached her and said he had come for her. Then the young man said to her, "I am Morning Star whom you said you would like to marry." He took her to his home with Natosi (Sun) and Kokomi-kisomm (Moon). After some time, she gave birth to a child. To pass the time, she would go out every day to dig roots and turnips. She could go anywhere in the sky, but her husband forbade her to dig a certain large turnip. But one day, the temptation was too great, and she could not resist digging up the turnip to see what was underneath. Looking through a hole in the sky, which is the North Star, she saw all her family down upon the Earth. She started to cry and her loneliness was very great. At last Ipiso-waahsa (Morning Star) cut a long rope of buffalo rawhide and lowered her back to Earth with her child. Before she left, he gave her a ceremonial headdress and an elk tooth dress and the ceremony of ookaan. Her people were to use this ceremony every year to call on Natosi (Sun) and ask for his pity and help.

- As told by Mrs. Wolf Plume, Amsskaapipikani in 1911.

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Puff Balls

After the woman who married Morning Star returned to earth, her son was turned into a puff ball. These fungi ,which we call Kakatosii, grow in many places on the prairie. We use the puffball powder to stop bleeding and haemorrhage. The puff ball is often shown along the bottom edge of tipi designs.

Glenbow Museum

© Glenbow Museum


Moccasins

This pattern may represent Morning Star or a Dream Being.

Glenbow Museum
early 1900s
R84.10 a-b
© Glenbow Museum


The Wolf Trail reminds us of the time our ancestors were taught how to survive by the wolves.

According to the Blackfoot people of the North American plains, Makoiyi, the wolves, were the first Ksahkomi tapiksi (Earth Beings) to pity us. One snowy winter, when our people were starving, a young man and his family camped by themselves as they searched for food. The wolves found the family and appeared to them as young men bringing fresh meat to their tipi. The wolves took this family with them back to their camp. There, there were many different animals camped together, and they helped the family to set up, make a fire and get food. The animals shared many spiritual gifts with the man and also showed the man how to co-operate with other people when he hunted buffalo and other animals. The wolves also told our ancestors that animals with hoofs and horns were all right to eat, but that animals with paws and claws should be left alone. The wolves disappeared in the spring, but we still see them in the sky as Makoi-Yohsokoyi (Wolf Trail). These stars constantly remind us of how we should live together.

He invited the important men of the different clans and he fed them and he told them the story of how he got saved by the animals and that he was given the powers and he shared everything with them. And he told what the wolf man had told him that up in the skies you are going to see the trail [the Milky Way] in the future and you are going to have to pray to that trail. There are human beings there, there are spirits there, they are going to help you. They are powerful.

That’s the story of the wolf trail. That’s how it was given to us, to look up in the sky and to always revere that trail that it’s a sacred thing. It’s not just there, it’s for people in the future to always think about it, to look up at the skies. And then that it has stayed there we don’t know how long but it’s still there today. And it’s going to be there for all times. And that’s where the story boils.

I would think the lesson taught in that story is the virtue of caring, of giving, and of sharing, and of respect. I think that was what the lesson and to respect all of creation. Because all of creation comes from the Creator, created the skies, and the earth, and the animals on the land, and the birds of the air, and the animals in the water. Everything is connected. We are all the creatures of the same Creator that created us.

As told by Rosie Day Rider and Louise Crop Eared Wolf, Kainai

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003


Wold Pictograph

The Blackfoot people have learned a great deal from the wolves.

Glenbow Museum

© Glenbow Museum


Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Be able to relate stories from Blackfoot culture about objects in space
  • Appreciate the importance of astronomy to the Blackfoot people
  • Comprehend and interpret stories communicated through text, images, and audio media

Teachers' Centre Home Page | Find Learning Resources & Lesson Plans