Available for purchase
Original Watercolor 22″ x 30″
Blackfoot Honor Shirt
Courtesy of the National Museum of American Indian collection, which was photographed by Lou Stancari.
This is the 8th in the series of Honor Shirts of Native American Indians, which Alexis began in year 2000. This original shirt belonged to the Blackfoot Nation around the 1850’s. The Blackfoot Nation originated in the Northern Great Lakes Region and moved Westward. Their name could have originated from the blackened moccasins they traditionally wore.
The Blackfoot Nation really consists of four distinct Blackfoot nations, who share a historical and cultural background but have separate leadership: the Siksika (which means Blackfoot), the Akainawa (also called Kainai or Bloods), the Pikanii (variously spelled Piikani, Pikani, Pikuni, Piegan, or Peigan), and the Blackfeet Nation. The first three nations are in Alberta, Canada, and the fourth is in Montana. (“Blackfeet,” though the official name of this tribe, is actually a misnomer given to them by white authorities; the word is not plural in the Blackfoot language, and some Blackfoot people in Montana resist this label.) The Blackfoot were nomadic plains hunters, traditional enemies of the Shoshone and Nez Perce. There are about 14,000 Blackfoot Indians today all told.
Blackfoot, or Siksika, is an Algonquia language spoken by 8,000 people in southern Alberta and northern Montana. The two main dialects are called Pikanii and Siksika Blackfoot. Many children are still learning Blackfoot, but the language is currently undergoing linguistic shift, with ‘Old Blackfoot’ being spoken by older generations and ‘New Blackfoot’ being spoken by younger ones.
The Blackfoot were a powerful buffalo-hunting society of the northern plains. At first the arrival of the Europeans pleased them, since European horses became quickly invaluable to the Blackfoot tribes. Unfortunately, things took several turns for the worse. Smallpox epidemics ravaged the Blackfoot population in the mid-1800’s (there is evidence that some white settlers may have deliberately helped it along by selling infected blankets). In 1870 American army forces, looking for Mountain Chief’s band of hostile Blackfoot Indians, fell instead upon Heavy Runner’s peaceable Piegan band and killed 200 of them, many of them women and children. (Mountain Chief and his people escaped across the new border into Canada.) Worse than any of this, by 1900, the white settlers had wiped out the buffalo herds. Hundreds of Blackfoot Indians starved to death, and the forced transition to sedentary life left a once-mighty nation dependent on government rations. Nevertheless, in the face of these travails the Blackfoot have not lost their culture, and the Blackfoot Indian language is one of the few indigenous languages in Canada and the United States which is still spoken and growing.