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Field Division of Education
The Blackfoot
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MEN'S SOCIETIES


Any collection of Blackfoot material is likely to include articles of attire that one who is uninformed may mistake for ordinary costuming. In reality, many of these may be regalia of the members of the various men's societies. It is important therefore, that such things should not be exhibited as ordinary costuming until a definite knowledge of them is obtained. On the other hand, exhibition of society regalia is, except for illustrations of society dances, the only means of representing this important aspect of Blackfoot social life in a museum.

Each of the three major divisions of the Blackfoot was divided into a series of military societies. Young men entered the lowest, the Pigeons, together, and as a body, advanced successively through the higher societies. Each advance in rank was accomplished by the members of the society purchasing the next higher society with its regalia, etc., from the owners, who, upon selling out, themselves advanced, etc. Thus, the transfer of membership is basically like the transfer of medicine bundles. The society functions were primarily ceremonial, each having its own dances, songs, regalia, ceremonies, and even modes of behavior and taboos, but they might, at times, be called upon to perform civil duties, such as guarding camp, policing the buffalo hunt, etc.

The most outstanding feature of these societies have been listed by Wissler, as 1. progressive membership; 2. annual ceremonies a reorganization each year at the forming of the camp circle; 3. transfer or membership at the end of a four year period; 4. absence of moral and practical qualifications for admission and of all provisions for expelling undesirable members. (1913:425.)

The following list of these societies among the three Blackfoot groups as given by Wissler (1913:369) is:

Piegan Blood North_Blackfoot
Piegeons----------
MosquitosMosquitosMosquitos
Braves
----------Bees
----------Prairie-Chickens
----------Crows
BravesAll-brave-dogsAll-brave-dogs
----------Bad-horns
All-brave-dogsBravesBlack-soldiers
Front-tailsBlack-SoldiersBraves
Raven-bearersRaven-bearersRaven-bearers
DogsDogsDogs
Kit-foxesHornsHorns
CatchersCatchersCatchers
BullsBullsBulls
----------Kit-foxes

(Lists and names given by other authors by no means exactly correspond with these)

In addition to these, there existed among the Blood and Northern Blackfoot, a woman's society called Matoki. (Wissler, 1913: 430-435.)

The paraphernalia, rituals, etc. of the above societies are described and figured by Wissler (1913:365-435.)



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