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Assiniboine History

The Assiniboine Tribe of Fort Belknap

The Assiniboine are people of the northern Great Plains of North America who call themselves Nakoda or Nakota. To the Chippewa, they are known as AS'see'nee pai-tue (those who cook with stones). In Canada they are called the Stoney, while in the United States they are known as the Assiniboine. Through years of separation, differences in dialect and custom have developed between the two branches. But they still remember their common origins, and consider themselves a single people.

Origins, location, and language. Pierre Jean Desmet, a French Jesuit missionary of the early 19th centuries stated that the Assiniboine were once members of the Yanktonai band of Dakota (Sioux). The oral tradition fo the Assiniboine, however, refutes that claim. According to oral history in all Assiniboine tribal bands, their origins are Algoquain. Scholars of Assiniboine descent have been involved in research in the area since the mid-1970's.

Tribal oral history states that the Assiniboine originated in the Lake of the Woods and the Lake Winnipeg area of Canada, and became allied with the Cree. IN 1744, a division was noted, and "the people" divided again. Some bands moved west into the valleys of the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan Rivers in Canada, while others moved south into the Missouri Valley. The bands inhabited an area from the White Earth, Minnesota, region west to the Sweet Grass Hills of Montana. They also lived and roamed north of the U.s.-Canadian border to a line running east and west from Hudson Bay to the Rocky Mountains.

Thirty-three bands of Assiniboine have been identified. Accordign to Edwin T. Denig, the Assiniboine returned to the Missouri region between 1800 and 1837, numbering about 1,200.

The Assiniboine language is a dialect of Dakota, a subdivision of the Siouian family. In many respects, it could be considered a simple language. A mini-analyssis was conducted by Ken Ryan, an Assiniboine from the Fort Peck Reservation, utilizing the International Phonetic Alphabet. he developed a phonetic Assiniboine alphabet, and found that there are 26 phonemes, 20 consonants, and 6 vowels in the language.

Tribal Culture - The Assiniboine were typically large game hunters, dependent on the buffalo for a considerable part of their diet. They used buffalo hides for clothing and receptacles, and lived in hide tipis. By about 1750 the Assiniboine hunting grounds embraces all the Canadian prairies. Both the Canadian and U.S. branches occasionally slaughtered entire herds by driving them into compounds. The meat was roasted on spits, or boiled in hide bags by means of hot stones. The Assiniboine also made pemmican, which they traded or ate themselves. The dog was the only aboriginal domestic animal, and was generally used to carry packs and pull travois, although the pups were sometimes eaten for religious purposes.

Most Assiniboine attached great importance to visions, and these took precedence in religious life. The elements of ceremonies and rites were performed individually or in groups. They included offerings, prayers, and the solemn unfolding of a pack containing sacred objects, and the singing of sacred songs. Tremendous importance was attached to the songs, which were repeated according to their mystic number. The Assiniboine considered sweating necessary purification before participation in any major ceremony. Their favorite incense for major ceremonies was made from sweet grass. Tobacco was, as a rule, reserved for ceremonies and other solemn occasions. The pipes were handed and passed according to definite tribal traditions.

The Assiniboine believed in great power- The Creator. They lived their religion every day. Therefore, they made sacrifices, fasts, and prayers to this unknown power, which they knew form actual phenomena had existence. mythological stories were told mainly for amusement. Most of them, however, contained a moral or ambiguous meaning and were interesting and imaginative.

Source *The Encyclopedia of the American Indians, Volume 1, 1975