Native Languages of the Americas:
Blackfoot (Siksika, Peigan, Piegan, Kainai, Blackfeet)
Language: Blackfoot, or Siksika, is an Algonquian
language spoken by 8000 people in southern Alberta and northern Montana. The two main dialects are called Pikanii and Siksika Blackfoot.
Many children are still learning Blackfoot, but the language is currently undergoing linguistic shift, with 'Old Blackfoot' being
spoken by older generations and 'New Blackfoot' being spoken by younger ones. Blackfoot is a polysynthetic language with complex
verb morphology and fairly free word order.
People: The Blackfoot Nation today actually consists of four distinct Blackfoot nations, who share a historical and
cultural background but have separate leadership: the Siksika Nation (whose name literally means Blackfoot), the Akainawa
Nation (also called Kainai or Bloods), the Pikanii or Peigan Nation (variously spelled Piikani, Pikani, Pikuni, or Piegan), and the Blackfeet
Nation. The first three nations are in Alberta, Canada, and the fourth is in Montana. ("Blackfeet," though the official
name of this tribe, is actually a misnomer given to them by white authorities; the word is
not plural in the Blackfoot language, and some Blackfoot people in Montana resist this label.) The
Blackfoot were nomadic plains hunters, traditional enemies of the Shoshone and
Nez Perce. There are about 14,000 Blackfoot Indians today all told.
History: The Blackfoot were a powerful buffalo-hunting society of the northern plains, with most of their settlements in
Montana, Idaho, and Alberta. At first the Blackfoot Indians were pleased by the arrival of the Europeans, since the horses they brought
were invaluable to buffalo hunters. Unfortunately, things took several turns for the worse. Smallpox
epidemics ravaged the Blackfoot population in the mid-1800's (there is evidence that some white
settlers may have deliberately helped it along by selling infected blankets). In 1870 American
army forces, looking for Mountain Chief's band of hostile Blackfoot Indians, fell instead upon
Heavy Runner's peaceable Piegan band and killed 200 of them, many of them women and children.
(Mountain Chief and his people escaped across the new border into Canada.) Worse than
this, by 1900, the white settlers had wiped out the buffalo herds. Hundreds of Blackfoot Indians
starved to death, and the forced transition to sedentary life left a once-mighty nation dependent on
government rations. Nevertheless, in the face of these travails the Blackfoot people have not lost their culture,
and the Blackfoot Indian language is one of the few indigenous languages in Canada and the United States
which has a good chance for survival.