Monday, May 5, 2014

Blackfoot Music

File:Blackfoot dancer, Alberta 1973.jpg
Blackfoot Dancer
The music used in the Blackfoot tribes is focused around vocals and does not use very much instruments. However, it is considered extremely offensive to sing without drums. Only percussions such as drums, rattles, and bells are used along with the vocals in their songs. These songs also do not contain a great deal of lyrics, rather they are consisted of chanting or grunting noises. There is a reasoning behind why they do this: "Music is meant for entertainment or enjoyment, often while doing other things. If someone needed to say so many words, why didn't they just talk?"

Blackfoot Drum

Most of their songs are done in a group singing where the leader may begin the head motive or phrase of a song and then be repeated by other singers. They are very similar to other Plains Indians that use high-pitched beginnings, pulsations, vocal narrowness, and nasality. However, the Blackfoot bring the songs to a new level by singing much more intense and at much higher ranges.







Blackfoot Cultural Survival

Montana Blackfoot Nation Flag
The living conditions of the Blackfoot today are varying. They are having a steady improvement to their educational system as well as their employment opportunities. However, they are suffering from social problems arising from the allowance of business to serve alcohol in the reservations. There are services being offered for alcoholism, addiction, family problems, and unemployment; all in hopes to remedy the situation.

Many of the different Blackfoot Confederacy reserves are in different stages of development, one is still in the final stages of arranging self-government with Canada whilst others are slowly regaining control over their health, social, economic, and education services by including tribal language and traditions in the schools and services as well as owning a successful clothing factory.

"Black Bear" Blackfoot Ceramic Artist

Many of the old Blackfoot traditions are still being carried on by the current Blackfoot tribes and they are hoping to have these traditions continue on with their children. They are continuing rituals such as announcing the coming of spring by opening five medicine bundles, one at every sound of thunder during the spring. The Blackfoot have even been holding their Sun Dance rituals (discussed in my "World of the Blackfoot" blog) for 80 years. This ritual became illegal in the 1890's lasting until 1934 where they began to uphold the practice every summer. The event is eight days long, full of prayers, dancing, singing, and offerings to their Creator, all allowing the Blackfoot to get together and celebrate their cultures most sacred ceremonies.


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Blackfoot Migrations and Diaspora

The homeland of the Blackfoot tribes was the Great Plains spreading through what today is Central United States and into Canada. They were happily living in these plains and peacefully kept to themselves until they were invaded by the Europeans that were cutting into their territory. The only migrations that I have found were the forced movements from their own land onto separate reservations put aside for Blackfoot tribes.
Source: Wiki

The Blackfoot were moved onto the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana which is 1,462,640 acres (2,285 square miles). The Montana Blackfoot Nation has a population of 15,560 with 10,405 of it living on the reservation. Other members of the Blackfoot Confederacy who were unhappy with the conditions of reserves moved from their lands in the US into Canada.


Blackfoot and their Neighbors

The relationship of the Blackfoot with the rest of the populace of North America varies. They have hostilities, like almost all other Native Americans, against the white settlers invading their lands. They did not like the fact that the settlers barged in and started to control them. Aside from these hostilities, the Blackfoot did not have many conflicts with the surrounding groups. When the Great Plains Indian Wars came around, the Blackfoot, for the most part, stayed away from fighting against or scouting for the United States army.

File:Chief Crowfoot.jpg
Chief Crowfoot 1885
Several times the Blackfoot have been confronted by other tribes that were fighting in the war, asking them to join their side and fight. However the Blackfoot refused to join in the war and sent them off. Even after they came back and asked again the Blackfoot would refuse to join in on war. Eventually one of the most influential Blackfoot chiefs, Crowfoot, was able to end hostilities between two nations. Even when asked to join in fighting in the Northwest Rebellion the Blackfoot still remained out of the fighting.

However, a big problem occurred for the Blackfoot in the mid-1800's when their food supply began to plummet due to the European-American hunters taking too many of their bison as well as moving too far into their territory. The buffalo was the main food source of the Blackfoot and when they began to dwindle the United States government signed a treaty to give them $20,000 a year if they would move onto a reservation. The Blackfoot were forced to rely on the supplies given to them but most of them never even arrived or were spoiled when they got them. This forced the Blackfoot to make raids on white settlements out of desperation for food.


Birds of the Blackfoot

The Blackfoot did not have many things to do with birds because of their world almost completely revolving around the importance of the buffalo to them. The importance of birds really only goes as far as being used for their clothing and the appearance of a bird in an old Blackfoot legend.

The Blackfoot make use of Eagles and other birds' feathers in their clothing such as the roach that they wear. Their roaches are made from many porcupine needles; which are often dyed red. Many Blackfoot would acquire the feather of an Eagle or another bird and then use them on their roaches as pictured below.

 Blackfoot roach with bird feather. Source: Web

There was also a legend told by the Blackfoot that involves their god Na'pi discovering a bird emitting a strange noise. When he watched to bird make the noise, its eyes would pop out of its head and land on a tree. It would then make the noise again to retrieve its eyes. This trick astounded Old Man so he approached the bird and inquired how to do such a trick. The bird agreed to show him but only if he promised not to do it more than three times in a day. After his agreeing the bird then showed Old Man how to do the trick. Overwhelmed with joy, Old Man then did the trick three times right away. Seeing as nothing went wrong, Old Man merely scoffed at the birds warning thinking him mad and did it a fourth time anyway. However, when Old Man tried to retrieve his eyes the trick failed him. He fumbled around shouting for the birds help but the bird ignored him and flew away. For a long time Old Man continued fumbling for his eyes, all the while a wolf teased him with a piece of buffalo meat, which was rotted, and held it by his face. Old Man noticed the awful smell and felt around for it, eventually catching the wolf and stealing one of his eyes. Being able to see with the wolf's eye, Old Man found his eyes and put them back in his head. He could finally see again but was now unable to do the trick that the bird showed him.


Blackfoot Cosmos

The Blackfoot people have a unique idea of religion which is the belief that their world was created by the god Na'pi which translates to "Old Man". The Old Man creation story tells a tale of a man who journeys from the South to the North, creating everything around him as he travels. The story explains strange phenomenon that they notice throughout the world such as strange rock formations that formed when he lay down to rest. It explains that he created the land so there would be plenty of room to live on and he created the animals which could understand him. The Old Man's journey begins at the beginning of the day which is a metaphor for the beginning of time.Old Man
     "Old Man" Source: Web
The Old Man is also told to have walked among the Blackfoot and lived with them at the very beginning. It has been told that he was very wise but also very mischievous. Strangely, even though he is mostly all powerful, he requires the aid of other animals at times. The end of the creation story talks about how the Old Man leaves the Blackfoot people, disappearing into the mountains in the West. However, he promised that he would come back.

The spiritual beliefs of the Blackfoot are also a reason as to why they do not eat fish or travel through the water on any boats like other tribes. Even though they live among rivers rich with trout, they will not eat them because they believed that the rivers and lakes had special powers coming from the Suyitapis (Under Water People) that lived in these waters. They thought that this was the reason why their medicine bundles and other items had such special powers. A medicine bundle was a special item that was used at the Blackfoot ceremonies that held items required for that ritual, whether it was tobacco, pipe, beaver hide, sweet grass, a war shirt, knife, lance, etc.