History of Montana - Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous Peoples

Archeological evidence has shown indigenous peoples lived in the area for thousands of years. For example, rock art in Pictograph Cave six miles (10 km) south of Billings has been dated, showing human presence in the area more than 2,100 years ago. Most indigenous people of the region were nomadic, following the buffalo herds and other game. Several major tribal groups made their home in and around the land that later became Montana, including the following modern Indian nations:

  • The Crow, a Siouan-language people, also known as the Apsáalooke, were the first of the native nations currently living in Montana to arrive in the region. Around 1700 AD they moved from Alberta to south-central Montana and northern Wyoming. In the 19th century, Crow warriors were allies and scouts for the United States Army The modern Crow Indian Reservation is Montana's largest reservation, located in southeastern Montana along the Big Horn River, in the vicinity of Hardin, Montana.
  • The Cheyenne have a reservation in the southeastern portion of the state, east and adjacent to the Crow. The Cheyenne language is part of the larger Algonquian language group, but it is one of the few Plains Algonquian languages to have developed tonal characteristics. The closest linguistic relatives of the Cheyenne language are Arapaho and Ojibwa. Little is known about the Cheyenne people before the 16th century, when they were recorded in European explorers' and traders' accounts.
  • The Blackfeet reservation today is located in northern Montana adjacent to Glacier National Park. Prior to the reservation era, the Blackfoot were fiercely independent and highly successful warriors whose territory stretched from the North Saskatchewan River along what is now Edmonton, Alberta in Canada, to the Yellowstone River of Montana, and from the Rocky Mountains east to the Saskatchewan River. Their nation consisted of three main branches, the Piegan, the Blood, and the Siksika. In the summer, they lived a nomadic, hunting lifestyle, and in the winter, the Blackfeet people lived in various winter camps dispersed perhaps a day's march apart along a wooded river valley. They did not move camp in winter unless food for the people and horses or firewood became depleted.
  • The Assiniboine also known by the Ojibwe exonym Asiniibwaan ("Stone Sioux"), today live on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Northeastern Montana shared with a branch of the Sioux nation. Intermarriage has led to some the people now referring to themselves as "Assiniboine Sioux." Prior to the reservation era, they inhabited the Northern Great Plains area of North America, specifically present-day Montana and parts of Saskatchewan, Alberta and southwestern Manitoba around the US/Canadian border. They were well known throughout much of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Images of Assiniboine people were painted by such 19th century artists as Karl Bodmer and George Catlin. The Assiniboine have many similarities to the Lakota Sioux in lifestyle, lanaguage, and cultural habits. They are considered a band of the Nakoda, or middle division of the Sioux nation. Pooling their research, historians, linguists and anthropologists have concluded the Assiniboine broke away from the Lakota and Dakota Sioux bands in the 17th century.
  • The Gros Ventre are located today in north-central Montana and govern the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. Gros Ventre is the exonym given by the French, who misinterpreted the name given to them by neighboring tribes as "the people who have enough to eat," referencing their relative wealth, as "big bellies." The people call themselves (autonym) A'ani or A'aninin (white clay people), perhaps related to natural formations. They were called the Atsina by the Assiniboine. The A'ani have 3,682 members and they share Fort Belknap Indian Reservation with the Assiniboine, though the two were traditional enemies. The A'ani are classified as a band of Arapaho; they speak a variant of Arapaho called Gros Ventre or Atsina.
  • The Kootenai people live west of the Continental Divide. The Kootenai name is also spelled Kutenai or Ktunaxa /ˈkuːtəneɪ/. They are one of three tribes of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation in Montana, and they form the Ktunaxa Nation in British Columbia, Canada. There are also Kootenai populations in Idaho and Washington. The Salish and Pend d'Oreilles people also live on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The smaller Pend d'Oreille and Kalispel tribes originally lived around Flathead Lake and the western mountains, respectively.
  • The Chippewa and Cree people today jointly share the Rocky Boy's Reservation in north central Montana. Rocky Boy's reservation was created after most of the others as a home for some of the "landless" tribes who did not obtain reservation lands elsewhere. The creation of the reservation was largely due to the efforts of the Chippewa leader Stone Child (aka "Rocky Boy"). The Little Shell Chippewa also have a presence in Montana, though because they did not join
  • Other native people had a significant presence in Montana, though today do not have a reservation within the state. These nations included the Lakota Sioux, the Arapaho, and the Shoshone.

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