American Indians

Recent archaeological surveys have found evidence of human use dating back over 10,000 years. These people were probably the ancestors of tribes that live in the area today. By the time the first European explorers came to this region, several different tribes inhabited the area. The Blackfeet Indians controlled the vast prairies east of the mountains. The Salish and Kootenai Indians lived and hunted in the western valleys. They also traveled east of the mountains to hunt buffalo.

The Blackfeet
The Nitsitapii (“real people”), collectively called the Blackfoot, comprise three distinct groups: the Blackfoot or Siksika, the Blood or Kainai, and Piegan or Piikani. The collective use of the names Blackfoot in Canada and Blackfeet in the United States developed because it was the Siksika, the most northerly group, who first met the European traders. Today, the Siksika reside on the Bow River near Calgary, the Kainai near Cardston and the largest group, the Piikani are separated into two groups, the North Piikani near Pincher Creek and the South Piikani in northern Montana. In modern times, the northern Montana group is referred to as The Blackfeet Nation or The Blackfeet Tribe.

A highly nomadic people, the Blackfeet were deeply connected to the hunting of bison on the plains and based much of their livelihood on the resources of the mountains and eastern foothills.

The yearly cycle of the Blackfeet began in early spring as individual bands left their winter camps to begin an intensive season of hunting and root collecting. Women and children went to the mountains to dig for roots, while small bands of hunters moved east, seeking bison. Food gathering continued through the summer until the annual Sun Dance celebration, when the various bands would convene for several weeks on the plains. At the conclusion of the Sun Dance ceremony, the various bands would disperse again; some returned to bison grounds, while others headed to the mountains to hunt elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats, to cut lodge poles and gather berries. As fall arrived, the bison moved west and north to their wintering grounds, and some Blackfeet bands would reassemble into larger groups for communal hunts. The annual cycle of hunt and harvest would end with the establishment of winter camps in heavily wooded river valleys near the mountains, sheltered from the severe northerly winds that swept the open plains.

The Kootenai
From west of the divide, the group most frequently associated with Glacier National Park is the Tobacco Plains Band, once located near Eureka, Montana. These people hunted and quarried workable stone (chert). Linguistically and culturally, these people, the Kootenai (spelled various ways including Kootenai, Kootenay and Kutenai), are a people unto themselves, with origins difficult to trace. Skilled hunters, trappers, and fishermen, the Tobacco Plains Band historically traversed the mountains on annual bison hunts into the Waterton area, utilizing crucial mountain passes.

Other Native Americans
Other tribes that occasionally used the area that has become Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park include the Salish, the Stoneys (Assiniboine affiliate), the Gros Ventre (Arapaho affiliate) and the Cree.

Last updated: June 18, 2016

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