Blackfeet 08

Production Date: 
ca. 1975
Run Time: 

Establishing shot:

Named locations:
Major themes covered:
Blackfeet youths trying to interview and discuss the arts and crafts of elder tribal member, John Bear Medicine. This video documents a perfect example of the cultural gap between the older generation and the younger generation of Blackfeet tribal members. The youths are seeking to learn from an elder of their community, but it is difficult to communicate with him because they do not know their Native Blackfoot language.

Native activities shown:  
Individuals Named:
Native language spoken: 
John Bear Medicine and translator speaking their traditional Blackfoot language (Siksika)
Noteworthy elements: 

John Bear Medicine was an elder Blackfeet tribal member who was also an artist and craftsman. Born to Bear Medicine and Ragged woman, John was the eldest of eleven children. John was born in 1886 in the Blackfeet Nation; both of his parents were also born in the Blackfeet Nation, in 1866. John Bear was an original member of the Blackfoot Confederacy, and was a singer of songs. He is mostly known for crafting Blackfeet dolls of men and women, and drawing images with accompanying stories. All of John Bear’s stories are reminiscent of the “old days” when the Blackfeet lived freely, and practiced the traditional way of life without intrusion.

The Sun Dance (Okan) is a ceremonial dance that takes place once a year in the summertime in a Sun Lodge. As the myth goes, a young woman from a Nitsitapi camp had married the brightest star in the sky, the Sun. The Sun took her to live in the realm of the sky. Some time passed when the girl saw that her people below were in trouble and became divided. The Sun told her that if she wanted to help her people she would need to bring them a gift. The Sun taught his wife this gift and she went down to teach it to her people. The gift she brought to her people was The Sun Dance, which is practiced in a Sun Lodge. The Sun Dance is a ceremony that includes all members in the Tribe and creates unity within it. One hundred songs are sung during the Sun Dance Ceremony, which lasts for a duration of one and a half days.

In the Piegan Blackfeet culture, Napi means Old Man, and he is a creator. According to oral tradition Napi was the first man on Earth, and he was the creator of the land the Blackfoot tribes live on. He also created the first woman. Several Plains tribes have Napi stories in their culture, however each tribe has their own versions of him. Napi is a creator in some stories, while being a trickster, trouble-maker in others. Despite the differences in Napi’s character from tribe to tribe, he still remains an important figure to the Blackfoot tribes of North America.

Print sources:

Dolch, Edward W, Marguerite P. Dolch, and Robert S. Kerr. Tepee Stories, in Basic Vocabulary. Champaign, Ill: Garrard Press, 1956.

Hansen, Emma I, and Beatrice Medicine. Memory and Vision: Arts, Cultures, and Lives of Plains Indian Peoples. Cody, Wyo: Buffalo Bill Historical Center, 2007.


Heth, Charlotte. Native American Dance: Ceremonies and Social Traditions. Washington, D.C: National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, with Starwood Pub, 1992.


Hirschfelder, Arlene B. Native Heritage: Personal Accounts by American Indians, 1790 to the Present. New York, NY: Macmillan, 1995. 


Hungrywolf, A. (1977). The Blood People: A division of the Blackfoot Confederacy: an illustrated interpretation of the old ways. New York: Harper & Row.


Hungrywolf, Adolf. Tribal Childhood: Growing Up in Traditional Native America. Summertown, Tenn: Native Voices, 2008.


Jackson, John C. The Piikani Blackfeet: A Culture Under Siege. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press, 2000.


Jenish, D. A. (1999). Indian fall: The last great days of the Plains Cree and the Blackfoot confederacy. Toronto: Viking.


Kennerly, Joan, and Melvin Tailfeathers. Old Man Napi. Washington, D.C. National Institute of Education, 1981.


Kennerly, Joan, and Robert Tailfeathers. Napi and the Bullberries. Washington, D.C. National Institute of Education, 1981.


Lancaster, Richard, and Wolf Running. Piegan: A Look from Within at the Life, Times, and Legacy of an American Indian Tribe. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday, 1966.


McLaughlin, G R. Blackfeet Culture. S.l: s.n, 1900.


Marceau, Carmen, and Melvin Tailfeathers. Napi's Journey. Washington, D.C. National Institute of Education, 1982.


Middleton, S. H. (1953). Kainai chieftainship: History, evolution and culture of the Blood Indians: origin of the Sun-Dance. S.l: s.n.


Rides, At T. D. D. D. C. Napi Stories. Blackfeet Heritage Program: Browning. , 1979. 


Rides, At T. D. D. D, Marce R. De, and Barbara G. Aubbert. Napi Stories. Browning, Mont: Blackfeet Heritage Program, 1979.


Samek, H. (1987). The Blackfoot confederacy, 1880-1920: A comparative study of Canadian and U.S. Indian policy. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.


Scriver, Bob. The Blackfeet: Artists of the Northern Plains : the Scriver Collection of Blackfeet Indian Artifacts and Related Objects, 1894-1990. Kansas City, MO: Lowell Press, 1990.


Wissler, Clark. The Sun Dance of the Blackfoot Indians. New York: Published by order of the trustees, 1918.


Wissler, Clark, Alice B. Kehoe, and Stewart E. Miller. Amskapi Pikuni: The Blackfeet People. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2012.


White, Phillip M. The Native American Sun Dance Religion and Ceremony: An Annotated Bibliography. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1998. 


The Philbrook Museum. (1971). The figurines of John Bear Medicine. U.S. Department of Interior, Indian Arts and Craft Board, Museum of the Plains Indian.


Sound Recordings:

Gladstone, Jack. Buffalo Cafe. Kalispell, MT: Hawkstone Productions, 1997.


Gladstone, Jack. Buffalo Stew: Legends and Lore of the Northern Plains. Kalispell, MT: Hawkstone Productions, 1998.


Gladstone, Jack. Tappin' the Earth's Backbone. Kalispell, MT: Hawkstone Productions, 2002.


Gladstone, Jack, James W. Schultz, Lloyd Maines, and David Griffith. Blackfeet Legends of Glacier National Park. S.l.: Hawkstone, 2008.


Rides, At T. D. D. D. Napi Stories / Writer/compiler, Darnell Davis Rides at the Door; [edited by Roxanne De Marce. Browning, MT: Blackfeet Heritage Program, c1979, 1979. 


Wagner, Curly B. Curly Bear's Blackfeet Stories. Browning, MT: Hawkstone Productions, 1996.


Wagner, Curly B. Among My People, the Blackfeet: Vol. 1. Somers, MT: Going-to-the-Sun, 2001.


Website resources:

Genealogy of Blackfeet tribal members


Blackfeet traditions: Sun Dance Lodge


American Indians of the Plains: Sun Dance traditions

--Sara Guzman, 2013