The Blackfoot (Nitsitapi) are often associated with Southern Alberta, however their traditional territory reached the North Saskatchewan River. They followed the migration patterns of the bison.
The Blackfoot nations are composed of four separate bands: the Siksika (Blackfoot), the Blood (Kainai), the north Peigan (Aapátohsipiikani) and the south Peigan (Amskapi Piikani). These nations make up the Blackfoot Confederacy.
The bison were essential to the Indigenous Peoples of the plains. The Blackfoot established words and meanings for the bison migration patterns, which often coincided with the change of the seasons.
The bison travelled a great distance of up to 300 kilometres north to safely take shelter in the artesian wells and wait to birth their calves in the warm spring weather before heading back south with their offspring.
The Blackfoot knew that when the bison were scarce and limited on the plains during the winter, they should travel north to find the bison.
Although the Blackfoot primarily used winter counts to mark years and their significance, they also followed a seasonal round movement. This is an occurrence where humans on the landscape take advantage of seasonally available food and resources.
This seasonal movement also helped the Blackfoot maintain relationships with other members of the greater community.
The Blackfoot travelled in bands traditionally using dogs (Omitaa) to help transport belongings and lodging. With advancement in travel methods, the Blackfoot used horses (Ponokaomitaa), finding it easier to hunt bison and elk.
This lifestyle was very important to maintain for the Blackfoot because of the annual weather patterns of the plains. It was vital to secure resources most easily and efficiently.
In many Indigenous cultures, every community member had a place and a job to do. The type of travel and harvesting in multiple places during the course of the year involved considerable planning and cooperation by all Blackfoot members.
The seasonal round was complex because larger bands separated into small clans for portions of the year and came together in larger groups for big events like celebrations and ceremonies. These cycles of union and dispersal were as central to cultural survival and renewal as was the acquisition of food and resources.
In honour of the bison roaming north annually, the ward was given the name Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi, which means the migration of the bison north for calving season in Blackfoot.
Special thanks to the Blackfoot Elders who took the time to tell these stories:
Maahtoomohkitopi (Rod First Rider)
Minnipokaa (Peter Weasel Moccasin)
Misamiksiss’taki (Marvin Mistaken Chief)
Ninnai Kissimmee (John Chief Moon)
Naminaistohmi (Blair First Rider)
Aahsaopi (Laverne First Rider)