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To this day we question the legitimacy of the 1896 transaction. But thereafter, the modern-day reservation boundaries were essentially set, and lands within the reservation were allotted to individual Tribal members between 1907 and 1911 under the General Allotment Act. On the surface, the idea was to distribute reservation land to individual Indians, but in practice the Act enabled non-Indians to buy (or fleece) allotments from Indians or to purchase “excess lands.” On some reservations, for example the Puyallup Reservation near Seattle, nearly all the land quickly left Tribal hands as it was purchased for pennies from Tribal members desperate for cash or seized for non-payment of taxes, and then developed into a drab and sprawling low- and middle-income suburb for non-Indians. Today, no one passing through the Puyallup Reservation would have the slightest notion they are on an Indian reservation, except for the occasional smokeshop or firework stand.
By comparison, the Blackfeet fared much better: Today, over 60% of the reservation remains in Tribal or Tribal-member hands, and the portions we don’t own are generally very large ranches with few structures and fewer inhabitants. Our non-Indian ranchers are good neighbors and good stewards of the land, so the character and appearance of our rangelands has remained essentially unaltered since early times. Over 8,500 of the Reservation’s 10,000 residents are enrolled Blackfeet. The other 1,500 are mostly Blackfeet descendants or Indians from other tribes, as well as a few hundred non-Indians.
In 1924, American Indians became U.S. citizens. In 1934, we became an “IRA Tribe” under the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. This stemmed the tide of reservation land being sold to non-Indians by conferring trust land status on much of our acreage, and also formed the legal based for sovereignty, bestowed a measure self-governance, and provided a Tribal Constitution-based structure for our government.
Prior to the early 20th century it was uncommon for Blackfeet to be sufficiently skilled at writing to make good chroniclers for the Tribe. So, much of the best writings about us came from non-Indians that we welcomed into our world. Below are excerpts from an essay written in the 1930s by a longtime, trusted friend, a man named Frank B. Linderman. It’s from his book: “OUT OF THE NORTH: A BRIEF HISTORICAL SKETCH OF THE BLACKFEET INDIAN TRIBE” and is a very good, lively, and romantic read. (Many Blackfeet would not agree with some of the statements made herein, but anyone who would take such trouble to learn about us and write so affectionately and sympathetically deserves to be heard uncensored.)
BLACKFEET! No tribal name appears oftener in the history of the Northwestern plains; no other is so indelibly written into the meager records of the early fur-trade of the upper Missouri river, and none ever inspired more dread in white plainsmen. Hell-gate* was not so named because the water there was fiercely wild, or the mountain trail difficult, but because the way led from tranquility to trouble, to the lands of the hostile Blackfeet. *Near Missoula, Montana. Gateway through the Rockies to the plains.
The three tribes of the Blackfeet nation, the Pecunnies (Piegans), Bloods, and Blackfeet, are one people. They speak a common language, and practice the same customs. Long ago…they reached the wide plains bordering the Rocky mountains in what is now Montana. Here they found vast herds of fat buffalo, elk, and antelope, an exhaustless abundance they had never known; and here, after driving the Snakes, and probably the Flatheads, Kootenais, and Nez Perces, from the bountiful grass-lands to the narrow valleys west of the Rockies, the three tribes of Blackfeet settled down to become plainsmen. Nobody can tell their numbers when they came out of the north. Old Pecunnie warriors have told me that their tribe once counted 750 lodges, probably less than 4000 people; and we know that, of the three tribes of the Blackfeet nation, the Pecunnie was the most numerous.
All this happened before the Blackfeet had horses. Dogs had always transported their goods. Now, to steal horses, their raiding parties ranged over the endless grass-lands far toward the south, old warriors say even into the Spanish possessions. Often these raiders were absent for two years; and nearly always they were successful. Their pony-bands grew until men measured their wealth in horses. Meat, their principal food, was easily obtained; and yet these people did not permit life to drag, or become stale. War and horse-stealing were their never-ending games; and besides furnishing necessary excitement and adventure they kept every man in constant training, since a successful raid was certain to bring attempts at reprisal. To be mentioned by his tribesmen as a great warrior, or a cunning horse-thief, was the highest ambition of a plains Indian; and the Blackfeet were master-hands at both these hazardous hobbies.
When finally they obtained fire-arms they became the scourge of the Northwestern plains, claiming all the country lying north of the Yellowstone river to the Saskatchewan. In stature they average taller than the men of neighboring tribes, having thin, shapely noses, and intelligent faces. Like the other tribesmen of the great grasslands they were naturally a deeply religious people; and like all the plains Indians they were naturally jolly, loving jest and laughter when not in the presence of strangers.