Our BLACKFOOT LANGUAGE has come to us as an oral tradition, steeped in culture and history. It is a beautiful language, rich in nuances and cultural expressions. It is an action language, based upon our reality, not on abstract thought. Our language has not been frozen in written form, it is always changing...always adapting to changing times. As some of the original words fall into disuse; others are added.
Some language experts tell us that our Blackfoot language is a member of the Algonquian language family, and that we’re related to other First Nations such as the Cree. Our own culture calls us Niitsitapiiks, or the Real People.
Our culture also tells us about other special people like the Above People, the Little People, the Under-Water people, the Beaver people…oh, and the Napikoaiksi….those are the strange ones… Napi’s people! But you won’t understand our ancestors’ humour and their own little practical joke on the newcomers until you come here and ask us about Napii. There are many stories about him.
Because of the resilience and adaptability of our language, several variations have developed between our four member reserves. They are: the Aamsskaapi-pikani in Montana, the Kainai and Aapatohsi-pikani in Alberta, and ourselves, the Siksika. While it is still the same language and we easily understand one another, some of these variations have become a source of friendly teasing among us.
In addition to our spoken language, our people also developed an intricate system of signs and body language to go along with our language, in order to communicate with other nations who have sign languages of their own. This sign talk which accompanied our words was so expressive that people from many parts of the country adopted forms of signing and were able to communicate without knowing each others’ language.
In fact, a number of early explorers, strangers to this land arriving either from the Atlantic, the Pacific or from Southern Mexico, were amazed at how effectively these signs were able to help them communicate with the North American Indians without an actual exchange of words. This language has come to be known as the Plains Indians Sign Language.
About a hundred years ago, some missionaries tried to help us write our language in syllabic form, a method that became quite effective for our Cree cousins. In Blackfoot country, however, the method never really caught on, but the syllabics still remain a significant example of cultural efforts which are part of our history.
Unfortunately, because we are a minority in a sea of English, our own language is losing ground in spite of the best efforts of our schools and teachers. For that reason, the Blackfoot Crossing Interpretive Center is planning a language revitalization program based entirely on our traditional way of learning… the oral way.
In the meantime, we invite our visitors to learn some of our words and signs, by including a number of conversational phrases that might be useful during their stay among us. Come learn a little Blackfoot and try it out on one of us!
Also, spend a few extra enjoyable moments with some of our people or come down to our EXHIBITS hall, and ask to use one of our PHRASELATORS which will give you an instant oral translation of hundreds more conversational phrases. This is new technology, adopted from the U.S. army in Afghanistan, which is proving helpful in sharing our language.