Assiniboine. Pronounced: uh-SIN-uh-boin. Translated: “those who cook with stones.” For they were noted for the ancient cooking technique of dropping heated stones into liquid. Their language: Nakota of the Naduessi or Sioux family. A Jesuit catholic priest named Paul Le Jeune noted in his yearly mission report that they were still a band of the Naduessi prior to 1640. Coming from the Lake Superior region of Turtle Island sometime in the 1600s they migrated west to now-know North Dakota, on to Montana, and into Saskatchewa, Canada. There are 40 separate bands, and they call themselves: Nakota – the people.
There are only a few key locations for the Assiniboine Nation: Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada area and in the Montana. We will be focusing on the present-day Montana area which is located only 40 miles from the Canadian boarder in which Lewis & Clark’s expedition crossed in 1804-1806.
There are 2 principle tribes that are found on the Assiniboine Nation reservation. They are the Assiniboine and the Gros Ventre. This reservation is the Fort Belknap Reservation, the 5th largest land-base of the native nations today that takes in 650,000 acres of land which figures out to about 1000 square miles of land. Membership enrollment is 3,557 members with 2,704 dwelling on the reservation and about 853 living in the area surround the native land. (The Navajo Nation Reservation in the Southwest U.S. is home of the largest native landmass that covers more than 27,425 square miles and is home to 300,000+ Navajos.)
Fort Belknap was treatied in 1855. It was originally a part of the Blackfeet Reservation. By 1900 the reservation was 537,600 acres. Eight years later with land being removed from the Assiniboine people, the acreage had dropped to 497,600 acres. Today that government allotment land is 427,579.93 acres with land owned by the tribe of 162,932.63 acres.
The Nakota’s first had white man contact from the Hudson Bay Company by Henry Kelsey in the 1690’s. Exployers and trappers Jean Baptiste de La Verendrye and his sons all documented that the Assiniboine held a vast territory across the Northern Plains. The tribe became regular providers of bison and beaver with the American Fur Co. and Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Their trade items for the pelts? Guns and munion, metal tomahawks, metal pots, wool blankets, wool coats and leggings. But the tribes received more than physical items from the trappers…
American Fur Company’s St. Peter’s steamboat arrived at Fort Union for their regular trade with the Assiniboine people. Upon arrival it was found of the local trappers that there was an extremely virulent strain of smallpox on the ship. The white trappers tried to warn the natives not to come because of the plague. Not understanding the significance of the warning they proceeded as usual for their trades. Before this 1837 episode, the Assiniboine population was about 10,000. By 1890’s they had dwindled to a mere 2600.
The People were semi-nomadic. In the warm weather they followed the bison and made life sustained from the whole of the animal the Great Creator gave to them. The women’s dresses were of leather – either mountain goat or deerskin. The men wore breechcloths with leather leggings, and a plains leather shirt. These were the people that wore the traditional plains feather headdress that white man associates with ‘Indians.’ For the time of snow they wore fur caps, and male and female wore moccasins or muluks for cold weather with bison robes. It is also this tribe that people associate the traditional native greetings: ‘hau’ with a raise of the hand. Englandized: ‘how.’ They were a well-adapted at Native American sign language when having contact with other native Nations.
The ‘life-givers’ (women) primarily were responsible for the survival and welfare of the family unit, which everyone understood to be the future of the tribe. They gathered, cultivated plants, used wild plants and herbs for healing and medicine, cared for the young and old, made clothing and instruments for their use, processed and cured meat and skins, tendons (for cortage) and horns. Girls not only learned these skills but were encouraged to learn excellent horsemanship and arrow shooting along with the boys. Although the girls and women did not participate in wars, it was felt they could be benefitted to be as agile and able as the men and boys of the tribe.
The following videos are available on this site that have connection to this article:
A 9:30 minute video on making soup by heated stones: Making a Native American Clay Bowl to Cook Stew in. 9:30 min.
A 7-minute video on Assiniboine Chief Rosebud Remembers Lewis & Clark.
And, a 1-minute video on Native American Sign Language.