The Blackfeet of Glacier National Park
Grade level: middle school
Blackfeet tribes are part of the native plains culture and the people lived in teepees and depended on buffalo for their main subsistence. Using horses for transportation, they led a nomadic lifestyle in order to follow the roaming buffalo herds. Early interactions with traders were friendly, and the Blackfeet traded animal pelts for guns and ammunition. As settlers encroached on their land, the Plains Indians warred against the U.S. government until they were settled in their respective reservations.
The Blackfeet Reservation is adjacent to the eastern boundary of Glacier National Park, and the reservation now enjoys a peaceful working relationship with the Park personnel. In the early days of the Park, the Blackfeet took part in the effort to promote tourism at Glacier National Park by greeting the visitors as they disembarked from the train. One of the first sites that tourists saw as they got off the train, was an encampment of Blackfeet. The Blackfeet entertained visitors by demonstrating their native music, dance, and pipe ceremonies. In addition, the Blackfeet chiefs sat by the fireplace to meet with visitors with a welcome speech. Today, native and cultural advisor Charlie Bear Wagner, speaks to guests about stories of his people.
In this lesson, students will research the culture of these people. Students choose a topic on which they become an expert. The class then creates their own encampment in the classroom to serve as a living history museum for the rest of the school. Specific elements of the museum can include art, shelter, music, legends, language, and clothing.
- Research one aspect of the Blackfeet culture
- Make a project that is representative of the culture
- Describe the project and how it represents the Blackfeet
National Social Studies Standards
Culture -- In a democratic and multicultural society, students need to understand multiple perspectives that derive from different cultural vantage points. This understanding will allow them to relate to people in our nation and throughout the world.
People, Places, and Environments -- Geographic concepts become central to learners' comprehension of global connections as they expand their knowledge of diverse cultures, both historical and contemporary.
National Geography Standards
The geographically informed person knows and understands the physical and human characteristics of places.
The geographically informed person knows and understands the characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on the Earth's surface.
The geographically informed person knows and understands the process, patterns, and functions of human settlement
For whole class:
- Tempera paints and paint brushes
- Great Lodges of the National Parks: Glacier Lodges. Video clips of the following segments:
For teepee group:
Start with: Set in the remote and wild northern Rockies of western Montana...
End with: ...today on board Amtrak's Empire Builder.
Start with: While other national Parks may claim to rival such magnificent scenery...
End with: It was opportunity for us also opportunity for the Great Northern Railroad to help one another promote tourism.
Start with: While the structural scale of the lobby is impressive, the charm is found in the detail.
End with: Renowned western artist Charlie Russell was a frequent visitor to the lodge and there is speculation that Russell inspired the fireplace design.
- 15 8-foot slender tree limbs
- Faux leather or muslin (about 10 yards depending on size of tipi)
- Large needles and heavy weight thread
For clothing group:
- Faux leather or muslin (about 1 yard per dress; ¼ yard per moccasin, ½ yard per shirt)
- Large needles and heavy weight thread
- 1-5 packages of beads, depending on number of students
For arts group:
- Faux leather; about 1/4 yd. each for parfleche and shield
- Paint stirrers
- Leather lacing or raffia
For music group:
- Embroidery hoops about 1 foot in diameter: one for each student in the music group
- Wooden dowels, about 1-foot long
- Masking tape
- Leather lacing or raffia
No special preparation is needed.
Assessment Suggestions: Assessment may be based on the following rubric:
Download Rubric (.doc format)
Download Rubric (.zip format)
- Start a class discussion of Native Americans. Elicit from the class the main groups of Native Americans. Ask the class: when we say the word culture, what comes to your mind? Write their answers on the board and fill in any gaps.
- Tell the class that they will be concentrating on the native Plains people and that the video clips they are about to see show the Blackfeet tribe working alongside the Glacier Park administrators to promote tourism in Glacier National Park. Tell the class that they are to write down any cultural aspects of the Blackfeet that they see in the clips.
- View video clips that are appropriate to this lesson and then ask the class to describe which cultural aspects of the Blackfeet they saw.
- Explain that they will research the Blackfeet culture and make a project that will become part of the class's living history museum. Tell them they can choose from the following topics: art, music, language, shelter, clothing, or legends. Students should decide which topic they want to work on and then form groups to complete the topic's project. Each topic will have an accompanying poster that explains the project and its significance in the daily life of the Blackfeet tribe.
- The shelter group will research teepees and learn how to build a tipi so that it is easily erected and taken down. This was important to the tribe because they had to be able to break camp at a moments notice when a buffalo herd or enemies were spotted. This group should use faux leather for the tipi covering and tree limbs for the frame. Once it is made, the group should view paintings by the Plains Indians (see website in resource section) and paint similar scenes of daily life or accomplishments on the covering to complete the tipi. This group will make a sign for the museum explaining how teepees were built and describing the use of teepees in the plains culture.
- The art group will research the plains art and make the following projects: parafleche, peace pipe, and shield. Direct them to the websites listed in the resource section for information on making these articles. They will also need to find out how and why plains art had a utilitarian/functional component to it. They will make a sign explaining how each item was made and how they were used by the Plains people.
- The legends group will read a variety of legends and each person will memorize at least two these to tell at the class museum (see resources below). They will make a sign explaining the purpose of legends in the Blackfeet culture and how they are similar to, and different from, legends of other tribes.
- The language group will go to a website that has recorded various phrases in the Blackfoot language. They will listen to these phrases and learn at least 3. Caution students that this is a difficult task and that it will require a lot of concentration and practice to master. They will make a sign explaining the language and showing some examples. Let visitors try speaking the language.
- Students in the clothing group will hand stitch a simple garment and use beads to decorate it. Plains Indians made their clothes out of animal skins, and they frequently decorated the moccasins, dresses, and shirts with beadwork. The beads should be threaded and stitched to the garment in a design that typifies the Plains' culture. This group's sign will explain the Plains clothing and how it was made.
For simple shirt or dress: trace the outline of the student's shirt (make it about 1-2 feet longer for a dress) onto the leather or muslin. Trace another outline around the first one. Cut around the second outline for front of shirt. Repeat for back of shirt. Sew the two pieces by hand along the first outline with wrong sides together, and then turn inside out to wear. Cut a vertical slit in the middle of the front side about 10" long to fit shirt over head. Draw a design for the beadwork on the front of the shirt and sew the beads to the shirt.
For moccasins: trace the outline of the bottom of a student's shoe, then trace another outline ¼" around the first one. Cut around the second outline. Lay leather over top of shoe and trace around the shoe where the sole and shoe top meet. Also draw the hole in the top of the shoe so you will know where to cut the hole to slip your foot into. Draw another outline ¼" from first one and cut along this line. Sew the two pieces by hand along the first outline with wrong sides together, and then turn inside out to wear. Draw a design for the beads and sew the beads to the moccasins.
- The music group will make their own drums from faux leather and embroidery hoops. Place the leather on top of the inner hoop and push the outer hoop on top to make the leather stretch as tightly as possible. Make a mallet by rolling masking tape up into a 2"-diameter ball. Tape the ball to the end of a dowel. Cover the ball with a piece of leather so that the leather hangs about 1" over the dowel. Wrap and tie a short length of lacing or raffia around the dowel to hold the leather in place. Listen to recordings of traditional Blackfeet music (see resources) and either learn a song or sing and play along with a recording. This group's sign will explain the use of music in the Blackfeet culture. Allow visitor's to try the drum.
- Students make written invitations to other classes to invite them to their living history museum. These could be done on the leather scraps to go along with the Native American theme.
- Have the students practice what they will say during the museum exhibit in front of the class.
- On the day of the museum exhibit, move desks to the side of the room to set up encampment.
- Order buffalo jerky from an Internet company (search: buffalo) and let the class sample it.
- Research a tribe that lived nearest to your area. Compare/contrast their culture to that of the Blackfeet.
American Museum of Natural History, Ceremonial bundles of the Blackfoot Indians
Clark, W.P., Indian Sign Language
Ewers, J. C., Blackfeet Crafts
Ewers, J. C., The Blackfeet, Raiders on the Northwestern Plains
Koch, R.P., Dress Clothing of the Plains Indians
Lacey, T.J., and Porter, F., The Blackfeet (Indians of North America)
McClintock, W., and Farr, W.E., The Old North Trail: Life, Legends, and Religion of the Blackfeet Indians
Minor, M., and Minor, N., The American Indian Craft Book
Nettl, B., 1980, Blackfoot Musical Thought-Comparative Perspectives