Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 29.djvu/223

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211
ETHNOLOGY OF THE BLACKFOOT TRIBES.

from a deer-horn scraper severed the member. The severed piece was taken up, held toward the sun, and the prayer made, when it was dropped into a bag containing similar members. This ceremony was gone through with each in turn. After this was done, each carried an offering, and climbing the sacrificial pole, with the face reverently turned toward the sun, placed the offering on the top of the pole. This year seven or eight persons went through the above ceremony. The other sacrificial ceremony consisted of the slitting of the flesh, in two pieces in each breast. A wooden skewer was thrust through each breast, a rope fastened to the sacrificial pole was placed around each skewer, and then the suppliant — whistling all the time upon the bone whistle — jumped about until the flesh gave way. In some instances the flesh was cut so deeply that two men had to press upon the performer's shoulders in order to tear it away. The ‘shield ceremony’ was the same process, only performed on the back, and the rope with a shield attached fastened to the skewers, and the ceremony continued until the suppliant was released.”

Mr. Riggs, it will be noticed, says that the ceremony was most zealously performed among the most westerly of the Dakota tribes, that is, those which are nearest to the Rocky Mountains and to the Blackfeet. Possibly the Blackfeet may have learned the rite from the tribe from which they acquired the foreign element of their language, and may have taught it to the Western Dakotas and Crees. In any case, it is clear that they have a mixed religion as well as a mixed language — which are both facts of considerable interest in ethnological science.

The form of government among the Blackfeet, as among the Algonkin tribes generally, is exceedingly simple, offering a striking contrast to the elaborately complicated system common among the nations of the Iroquois stock. Each tribe has a head chief, and each of the bands composing the tribe has its subordinate chief; but the authority of these chiefs is little more than nominal. The office is not hereditary, the bravest or richest being usually chosen. The term “confederacy,” commonly applied to the union of the Blackfoot tribes, is somewhat misleading. There is no regular league or constitution binding them together. “They consider themselves,” writes M. Lacombe, “as forming one family, whose three branches or bands are descended from three brothers. This bond of kinship is sufficient to preserve a good understanding among them.” They can hardly be said to have a general name for their whole community, though they sometimes speak of themselves as Sawketapix, or “Men of the Plains,” and occasionally as Netsepoyè, or “People who speak one language.”

The facts thus derived from the best authorities concerning this interesting people suggest some important conclusions. The opinion, still entertained by many, of the impossibility of bringing the nomadic Indians — or at least the grown-up people — under the restraints of civ-