Myths & Legends



Blackfoot: Land of Souls

The Blackfoot Confederacy or Niitsitapi (meaning “the people”) is the collective name of three band governments in the provinces of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, and one Native American tribes in Montana, United States. The Siksika (“Blackfoot”), the Kainai or Kainah (“Many Chiefs”), and the Northern Piegan or Peigan or Piikani (“Poor Robes”) reside in Canada; the Southern Piegan or Pikuni are located in the United States.

Originally the Blackfoot/Plains Confederacy consisted of three groups based kinship and dialect, but all speaking the common language of Blackfoot, one of the Algonquian languages family. The three were the Piikáni (historically called “Piegan Blackfeet” in English-language sources), the Káínaa (called “Bloods”), and the Siksikáwa (“Blackfoot”). They later allied with the unrelated Tsuu T’ina (“Sarcee”), who became merged into the Confederacy and, (for a time) with the Atsina, or A’aninin (Gros Ventre).

An account of the afterlife of the Blackfoot, the happy hunting grounds as described in Traditions of the North American Indians, Vol. 1 (of 3) by James Athearn Jones.
— Orly

The Blackfoot believes that his fathers have told him truly, when they told him that the people of his tribe, when released from the load of flesh, come to a steep mountain, up whose huge projecting sides they have to scramble. After many moons of unwearied labour, tired and exhausted, they reach the top, from which they behold the land of the dead. They see stretched out before them an extensive plain, interspersed with new tents, pitched by the sides of beautiful streams, the banks of which resound with the humming of bees and the music of birds, and are shaded from the summer sun by the ever-blooming tree with great white flowers. Some of the tents are pitched upon hills, some in valleys, some to meet the whispering breezes of the Month of Buds, and some the strengthening winds of the Harvest-Moon. While, from the top of the mountain they are absorbed in contemplation of this delightful scene, the inhabitants of the happy land discover them, and come singing and dancing along, clothed in new skins, to meet them, with the blanket of friendship widely spread to the winds (1). Those Indians who have led good lives approach with that fearless step and eye which the recollection of good deeds always inspires, and are received with every demonstration of joy common among Indians; but those who have embrued their hands in the blood of their countrymen, and betray, by their pale cheeks and trembling steps, that they expect and deserve punishment, and those whose foreheads have been in any way blackened by the smoke of the breath of the Spirit of Evil, are told to return whence they came, and without more words are pitched down the sides of the mountain. Women, whose hard hearts have made their feeble hands take the life to which they had given birth, quenching the little spark struck out from the half-burnt brand, never reach the mountain at all, but are compelled by the Master of all to hover around the seats of their crimes, with branches of the mountain pine tied to their legs. The melancholy sounds heard in the still summer evenings, and which ignorant white men think the screams of the goat-sucker, or the groans of the owl, are the moanings of these wicked and unhappy mothers, lamenting the unnatural murder of their helpless little ones. They are trying to recall them to life, that their doom may be revoked, and that they may be permitted to approach the mountain.

In the Blackfoot land of souls, all are treated according as the deeds they have done have been good or evil in their intent or their consequences. If they have truly and faithfully performed those things for which they were sent upon the earth, if they have been good sons, good husbands, good fathers, good friends; if they have fought bravely, hunted well, told no lies, nor spoken evil of the Great Spirit, nor made laugh at his priests, they know neither pain nor sorrow, their time is spent in singing and dancing, and they feed upon mushrooms, which are very abundant and grow without cultivation. They are attended to the Happy Regions by the shades of their dogs and guns, and the shades of their huts and every thing they contained are ready for them the moment they arrive in these happy regions. The souls of bad men, which are not separated from the good save by the different feelings and pursuits which belonged to them in life, wander about, haunted by the phantoms of the persons or things they have injured. If a man has destroyed his neighbour's canoe, or his gun, or his bow and arrows, the phantoms of the wrecks of this property obstruct his passage wherever he goes. He sees every where the bow, self-drawn, ready to impel an arrow pointed at his breast, the gun ready poised, the canoe threatening to sink him. If he has been cruel to his dogs and horses, they also are permitted to torment him, and to hunt him down, as he in his life-time hunted the wolf and the deer. The ghosts of the men whom he injured in life are now permitted to avenge their wrongs, and to inflict on his shade pains commensurate with those he made them suffer. The spirit of the man, from whom he stole the ear of soft maize, now snatches from his hungry lips the red-gilled mushroom, and he, into whose crystal stream he threw impure substances, in revenge, strikes from his lip the gourd of crystal water. The good hunter, whose bowstring he enviously cut, fillips him on the forehead; the warrior whose spear he broke when no human eye beheld him, now, informed of the unmanly deed by the Spirit who sees all, spits in his face, as a coward should be spat upon. The soul of the horse which he overrode, or otherwise maltreated, runs backwards upon him, with elevated heels and a loud neigh; the dog he whipped too much or too often rushes upon him with open mouth, and the growl of bitter and inextinguishable hatred. He steps into the canoe, it sinks beneath him, and, when his chin is level with the water, it rises beyond his reach. Lo, there is a gun before him, and the shade of a stately stag nipping the phantom of a youthful hazel. He makes the attempt to point the gun towards it, and just as he supposes he has attained the object, and puts forth his hand to give vent to the winged weapon of death, he finds the gun has changed its position—the muzzle is pointed towards his own breast. Thus opposed, thwarted, baffled, by every thing around him, despised by all things, whether gifted with life or not, he passes an existence, the horrors of which may be felt but not described.

The soul of the Blackfoot never returns to earth, except to forewarn his friends of their approaching dissolution. When the Great Spirit says to him, "Spirit of a Blackfoot, the son or the daughter of your father is about to leave the green vales of the earth,"—"the foot of your father is shaking off the drowsiness of age, that he may prepare for the long journey of spirits,"—"the babe that was born yesterday will be journeying hither to-day,"—"the heart of your kind mother wants courage to die,"—"the soul of your beloved maiden, much as it longs for the arms of its tender lover, faints at the near prospect of the pang that rends asunder the flesh and the spirit—go, and comfort them,"—then, and then only—always at the bidding of the Great Master, never of its own accord—does the soul revisit the gross and unhappy world it has left. Then does it knock at the ear of the sleeper, whispering, "Take courage, for the Master despises cowards—meet the pang as a brave warrior—as a good hunter—as a wise priest—as a beauteous maiden should meet it, and rejoin the happy souls of thy race, in the valley of the kind and good Waktan Tanka." The sleeper, thus admonished, wakes with the words of the spirit deeply engraved on the green leaf of his memory—that leaf never becomes dry. Is he a warrior, and has he the fate to be taken in the toils of the enemy?—when bound to the stake, and the fire scorches his limbs, and the pincers rend his flesh, and the hot stone sears his eye-balls, and the other torments are inflicted, that serve to feed the revenge of the conqueror, and test the resolution of the captive, no groan can be forced from him, in the utmost extremity of his anguish; he never stains his death-song with grief, but dies as he lived, a man, because he knows that the Great Spirit despises cowards. Is he a hunter?—he enters boldly the den of the black bear, though surrounded by her cubs, and he laughs at the cry of the catamount, though he crouches for his bound. Is he a priest?—he calls louder and more frequently and joyfully than before upon his familiar spirit; he thanks the Master that his prayers are heard; and he is to be permitted to visit the happy lands. And what if the tears of the bright-eyed maiden do drop on the bosom of those who pillow her head in the Hour of Dread, they are not tears of sorrow, but flow from an eye, by the command of Him who made it the window of the soul, fated to the weakness of tears, and a heart prone to irresolution and trembling. The Great Waktan Tanka knows that he made her with the heart of a dove, that shakes at the fall of a leaf, and the soul of a song-sparrow, that utters its cry of fear at the fall of a flake of snow. He will not number tears and sighs, and tremblings and faintings, among the transgressions of a woman.

This is all I have to say.




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