Kainai (Blood)

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The Block

Harrison Red Crow, of the Kainai Blood Reserve, created this colourful geometric design using a beaded version of old-style quillwork. The checkerboard design was widely used among the four divisions of the Blackfoot Confederacy to decorate moccasins. In earlier times the Kainai made moccasins from a single piece of hide, folded to create a side seam. This type of moccasin had soft soles and was called niit-tsi-tsi-kiin, meaning “the true moccasin”. Later moccasin styles adapted to the nomadic plains lifestyles to include two pieces of hide with hard soles and soft uppers.

Traditionally, naturally dyed porcupine quills were used to decorate moccasins. Working with quills was considered women’s work and a sacred artform. Women were required to undergo an initiation ceremony before beginning to work in this artistic medium. With the arrival of white traders the use of seed beads grew in popularity.

Portrait of Blue Wings - Kainai - Alberta 1909
Kainai woman
Suite owned by Willie Scraping White, Kainai, mid 1900s, elk hide, glass beads, weasel pelts - Glenbow Museum - DSC01034
Kainai clothing made of elk,weasel hide and glass beads
Woman's leggings, Kainai, late 1800s, glass beads, commercial leather, cotton backing, metal cones, horse hair - Glenbow Museum - DSC00978
Prized woman’s leggings
Our Home and Native Land
Kainai warrior in traditional garb

Cultural Profile

The Kainai, meaning “many chiefs” or “many leaders” in the Blackfoot language, Nitsipussin(the Real Language), are also known as the Blood Nation. They are part of the Blackfoot Confederacy along with the Blackfoot Siksiká, South Peigan (Aamsskáápipikani) and North Peigan (Aapatohsipikani). The dialects of the Blackfoot all stem from the Algonquian linguistic family.

Blackfoot traditional territory extended from the North Saskatchewan River in Alberta south to the Yellowstone River in Montana, and from the Rocky Mountains east to the Sand Hills of Saskatchewan. Considered the first occupants of the western plains, the allied tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy had a well-established system of social and political structures. In 1877, Chief Red Crow of the Blood Nation signed Treaty 7 with the Canadian Government on behalf of his people. Not long after, the decimation of the buffalo herds led many Kainai, under encouragement from Chief Red Crow, to set up large ranch and farming operations.

Today, approximately 2,500 Kainai live on the Blood Reserve, the largest reserve in Canada, which lies along the Belly River near Stand Off in southern Alberta. They have maintained traditional cultural values, supported by a strong sense of community. Every summer the Blood Reserve welcomes First Nations people from across North America to celebrate the Kainai Indian Days, a four day event that includes traditional song and dance competitions.

Sponsor: Kainaiwa Band Administration | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons and Flickr