Blood Indians, a group of North American aborigines forming part of the Blackfeet Tribe, which, with the Arapahoes and Cheyennes, constitute the Western division of the great Algonquin family. (See Blackfoot Indians.) The Blood Indian (Kaena) group is now subdivided into several branches, or clans, the most important of which is (I) the Ini-poyex (Standing-buffaloes), which is sub-divided into (a) Keay-etapix (Bear people), (b) Noto-spitax (All-tall-people), (c) Mami-ahoyin (Fish-eaters), (d) Ayom-okekax (Closely-camped), (e) Akae-pokax (Many-children), (f) Apikax (Scabby). Other clans of the group are (2) the Six-immokax (Black-elks), (3) Akae-namax (Many-scabbed-mouths), and (4) the Tsi-sokasimix (Buffalo-coats).
The language of the Blood Indians is like that of the other two groups of the Blackfeet, with but few and unimportant peculiarities. It is called Black-foot, and is classed as one of the branches of the Algonquin, though it possesses only a very limited number of words in common with the other branches of the same family. The aboriginal name, Kaena, might, it seems, be translated “Already-chief”; but the true meaning is in fact altogether lost, and no one, even among these people themselves, could now give a satisfactory interpretation of it. In the sign language, the gesture for Kaena is made by rapidly passing the right hand, palm downward, in front of the mouth, of which gesture the exact signification is also lost.
In the year 1882 the Bloods were supposed to number about 1800 souls; they now number not more than 1200. The former of these estimates may have been exaggerated, as it was difficult at that time to obtain statistics of mortality, but it is undoubtedly true that the numbers of these people have considerably diminished in the last twenty-five years, and that they are still, slowly, but steadily, diminishing. They used to be, as a rule, well-developed and powerful physical specimens of humanity, some of the men being over 6 feet 6 inches in height, the women generally shorter, but strong and healthy-looking. Their present physical condition, however, shows the melancholy constitutional effects of consumption and scrofula. The country over which the Bloods, with the other Blackfeet tribes, formerly roamed extended from the basin of the Missouri, on the south, northwards to the Red Deer River in the Canadian Province of Alberta, with the Rocky Mountains as its western boundary. Since 1877, when they entered into a treaty with the Canadian Government, they have been settled on the tract of land known as the Blood Reserve. This reserve, lying near the Belly Buttes, which had always been a favorite resort of the tribe, is bounded on the west by the Belly River, on the north by the Belly River and the Old Man River, on the east by the St. Mary River, and on the south by the Mormon settlement of Cardston.
Like most prairie Indians, the Bloods are very proud and superstitious. In their own way they are a very religious people, religion being a part of every important act of their lives. Their religious system closely resembles that of other Algonquins, but especially of the Crees. It centers in the worship of the sun (Natos), the moon (Kokomi-kisum), some constellations, and also some minor deities—genii of the mountains, forests, and streams. The most important of their religious practices is the sun-dance (okan), an elaborate ceremonial performance which needs months of preparation and ends with a week or so of festivities, in which fasting, self-torture, and self-mutilation are joined with rejoicings and frolics of every description. This practice, although dying out, is still revived from time to time. Other superstitious dances and performances are parts of the same curious and intricate system.
While the tribe was constantly roaming from place to place in the immense territory which now forms the States of Montana and the Dakotas, and the Province of Alberta, they were but rarely and irregularly visited by Catholic missionaries, among whom were Fathers de Smet and Imoda, S.J., and Father A. Lacombe, O. M. I. After the settlement of the tribe on their reserve, however, in 1877, it became possible to establish permanent missions among them. Of the three denominations—Catholic Anglican, and Methodist—which had established missions among the Bloods in 1881, the first and second have remained in the field. They maintain industrial and boarding schools, and have educated a number of Indian children. The progress of Christianity has been slow. Unfortunately, the example of many of the whites has not been of a nature to attract the Indians to the white man’s religion; yet there is a goodly number (about 35) of young Catholic families, mostly made up of the boys and girls educated in the Catholic schools. Besides, most of the children are baptized Catholics when young, and when these have been trained and educated the number of Catholic families will increase. There are also a few Protestant families. At the present time there are two Catholic priests on the Blood Reserve, with a neat little church, a’ residence, and a boarding school conducted by seven Sisters with some forty pupils. Children are also sent to the industrial school, which is established at a place about 100 miles distant from the Reserve, and is open to all the Blackfeet tribes. On the reserve there is a hospital conducted by Sisters of Charity for the exclusive benefit of the Indians, an institution which was probably unique of its kind at the time of its foundation, in 1893. Polygamy has been almost entirely eradicated, yet the bulk of the adult population—over thirty years of age, that is—are still pagans, and can be thoroughly habituated to Catholic practices only in a very limited number of cases. One most remarkable case of this kind was that of Chief Red-Crow (Mikahestow), who was converted and lived the life of a practical Catholic for several years preceding his death, which occurred in 1890.
The progress of civilization among the Bloods during the last twenty-five years may be regarded as marvellous in the extreme. At first they were trained to become farmers; but this occupation was not to their liking, and little progress was made. For the last twelve years, therefore, a new policy has been adopted which has proved to be the right one. In pursuance of this later policy, the Indians have been set to ranching and cattle-raising—a congenial occupation. Many of them now have herds of their own, and are self-supporting. Noteworthy progress has also been achieved in their dress, housing, preparation of food, treatment of wives, and, generally, in their ideas of social relations; so much so that the Blood Indian of today may be considered an entirely different being from his predecessor of twenty-five years ago.
EMILE J. LEGAL