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OUR CULTURE

The Siksika refer to themselves as Niitsitapi or “the Real People.” This is because they are equal partners in the universe with all the other Beings.

What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.

Chief Crowfoot (1830 – 1890)

Creation: ISSKO’TSIKA- EARLY DAYS

Long ago the Creator (Apisstotoki) made the earth and all the different things in it. He told the earth (Ksahkomitapi) that she would be the mother of all that he had created and all his creation would live off her. The Sun (Natosi) was created and he was told that he would be the one to give light and warmth to everything.

The Creator told Natosi’s wife, the Moon (Kokimmikisoom) that, along with all their children (Kakatosiiks) in the sky, they would be the ones to give light at night. After Creator had finished everything, he called all his creation to name them and give them counsel. He told them that they must never forget their heritage, and remember that they came from the Above People (Spomi’tapiiks). He told the animals that some of them would live below the earth, they would be called Stahtsitapiiks. He called those that would live in the water Soyitapiiks.

However, when the Creator came to the dog, he was stumped as to what to do with him so he was left to himself and he freely romped all over the place. Somehow, he later ended up in the moon. Still today we often see his brothers the wolf, the coyote and the other dogs crying or howling for him to come home. This was how we all came to be in existence. Many stories and legends have been passed down through generations about Creation and the early days.

SURVIVAL: AWOH’TSOWOKOOTTSIYA- TRADE

Although Niitsitapi had everything they needed in the early times to survive, they traded with other tribes for materials not found on the plains. Stone for pipes and weapons and shells for decoration were obtained. The trading process was based on respect and certain protocol. When the first Europeans began to trade in North America, their goods made their way to the plains through the other tribes. Guns, ammunition, knives, tools, tobacco, flour, sugar, tea, cloth, blankets, household utensils, shells and beads were just some of the valuable and coveted items. As the fur traders moved into the territory, they established trading posts and tried to convince Siksika to trap and trade furs. They were not interested but provided buffalo robes, meat, pemmican and horses for the goods offered by the traders.

IINI- BUFFALO

In the old days there were millions of buffalo (iini) on the plains. The buffalo provided food, clothing, shelter, tools, domestic items, weapons and ceremonial elements. Niitsitapi lived a nomadic lifestyle and followed the herds. Before the horse came, they hunted the buffalo on foot and also used buffalo jumps and pounds (temporary corrals). When they acquired horses, they were able to chase the buffalo and go further distances to hunt them. Niitsitapi has always had a respectful relationship with iini, and it is still an important part of spiritual life.

For centuries Nitsitapi of the plains utilized the meat and hides of the buffalo without making the slightest impression on their fabulous numbers. This was left for the white man to accomplish. The peak of the slaughter was reached sometime after the middle of the past century – a crescendo of such sadistic butchery of a big game animal as the world has ever known. Millions were wiped out in a few decades.

PIISTAAN- BUFFALO JUMPS

The buffalo jump was used for 5,500 years by our people to kill buffalo, by driving them off the 10-metre-high cliff. The Blackfoot drove the buffalo from a grazing area in the Porcupine Hills about 3 kilometres west of the site to the “drive lanes,” lined by hundreds of cairns, then at full gallop over a cliff. The cliff itself is about 300 metres long, and at its highest point drops 10 metres into the valley below. The site was in use at least 6,000 years ago, and the bone deposits are 10 metres deep. After falling off the cliff, the buffalo carcasses were processed at our nearby camp. This site is the most well-known buffalo jump- the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump in Southern Alberta. There are many others in traditional territory, including several at Siksika. South of High River is the Old Women’s Buffalo Jump. In 1952, a flash flood in the coulee below the jump exposed many layers of artifacts and bones. A dig at the site in 1958 revealed that the buffalo jump was in use for more than 1,500 years. The flat prairie, leading to a sudden cliff, the nearby creek and sheltered coulee provided perfect conditions for the buffalo kill site. Although many buffalo jumps have eroded over time, and many bones and artifacts have been removed, they are unique monuments of the historical importance of the buffalo.

WHAT IS A BUFFALO JUMP?

A buffalo jump is a cliff formation which North American Indians historically used to kill plains bison/buffalo by herding the buffalo and driving them over the cliff. Buffalo jumps came into prevalent use by Plains hunters around the first century A.D. Buffalo jump sites are often identified by rock cairns, which signified markers designating “drive lanes”, by which bison would be funneled over the cliff. Often these drive lanes would stretch for miles on end. This type of hunting was most certainly a communal event, which probably lasted until around 500-600 A.D. when the bow and arrow made its way to the plains. Buffalo jump sites yield significant archaeological evidence because processing sites and camps are always nearby.


Plants

Native plants played a big part of our survival and traditions. We gathered and collected a wide variety of plants all season long for eating, ceremonies and medicine.

KA’KSIMI- SAGE
Used for ceremonial cleansing. Sage is used in medicinal brews. Some brews can only be made and given by those who have the authority to make them.
PA’KIP- CHOKE CHERRY
Crushed, dried and made into little cakes or mixed with dried meat and fat to make pemmican. Also used for medicine, and the branches for tools, backrests.
OOKONOOKI- SASKATOON BERRY
Berry soup is served at ceremonies and for special occasions. Saskatoons are enjoyed fresh or dried and were mixed with meat and fat to make pemmican.
MA’AS- WILD TURNIP
Eaten raw, but was traditionally cooked in boiling pits lined with grass and rocks. It is very important in oral tradition and for the Societies and ceremonies.
SIPAATTSIMAAN- SWEETGRASS
Used for cleansing and for ceremonies, with prayers and offerings. It can also be used for medicine and as a freshener. Sweetgrass is often used in native crafts.
KINNIKINIK- BEARBERRY
The leaves are dried, mixed with twist tobacco and smoked in pipes at sacred ceremonies. The berries and leaves may have been used for medicinal purposes.

Food & Cooking

NIITOY-YISS- BLACKFOOT TIPI/TEEPEE

Clothing

AI’PAWA’NIKSI-ANIMALS


Treaty 7

The years following the signing of Treaty 7 brought difficult times for Siksika people. The buffalo disappeared, and government-appointed (Kinnonna) Indian agents dictated many aspects of their lives. Poor rations, residential schools, government-supervised farming and ranching, churches, housing, coal mining all had major impacts. In 1910 a large portion of Siksika land was auctioned off to private landowners and the Canadian government. While ensuing years brought short-term prosperity, it also created many problems. In spite of it all, the Siksika people managed to build on their traditional foundations, and with the strength of their families they survived the best they could.

The Indian Act

The Indian Act continued to influence almost every part of Siksika life. The Government of Canada appointed Indian agents who administered the Act and had the power to enforce it. They kept careful control over band finances, administration, housing and the distribution of rations. Under the direction of farming instructors and the agents, the people were encouraged to raise cattle and plant crops. Some went to work in coal mines on the reserve. Residential schools were operated by the Anglican and Catholic churches on behalf of the Government. Attendance was enforced by the Indian agent. Most people did what they had to do to survive and maintain their family ties, friendships, culture and language.

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