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Fort Belknap History

The Fort Belknap Indian Reservation is located in north central Montana. The reservation is the homeland of the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine people. Established in 1888, the reservation is what remains of the vast ancestral territory of the Blackfeet and Assiniboine Nations. The Gros Ventre, as members of the Blackfeet confederacy, and the Assiniboine Nation signed the Fort Laramie treaties of 1851 and 1855 with the United States Government establishing their respective territories within the continental United States. The Fort Belknap Reservation is part of what remains of these two nations ancestral territory that included all of central and eastern Montana and portions of western North Dakota. The Blackfeet, and Fort Peck Indian Reservations are also part of this territorial boundaries.

The 12-bed hospital has been replaced with a 6-bed infirmary, which was occupied May 18, 1998. As part of the treaties and agreement between the U.S. Government and Indian tribes, health services are to be provided to Indian people. This was in exchange for the many lands given up by the Indian people for things such as the railroad, homesteading, roads, reservoirs, and etc. The establishment of IHS did not occur until 1955, the concepts of dependency-to-self determination and tribal sovereignty have been a long-standing tradition.

The Gros Ventre call themselves "AH-AH-NE-NIN" meaning the White Clay People. They believed that they were made from the White Clay that is found along the river bottoms in Gros Ventre country. Early French fur trappers and traders named this tribe "Gros Ventre" because other tribes in the area referred to them as "The Water Falls People." The sign for water fall is the passing of the hands over the stomach and the French though the Indians were saying big belly so they called them "Gros Ventre" meaning "big belly" in the French language.

The Assiniboine refer to themselves as "Nakoda" meaning the generous ones. This tribe split with the Yanktonai Sioux in the seventeenth century and migrated westward onto the northern plains with their allies, the Plains Cree. "Assiniboine" is a Chippewa word meaning, "One who cooks with stones." The Assiniboine are located on both the Fort Belknap and Fort Peck Indian Reservations in Montanan and on several reserves in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The Gros Ventre and Assinboine were nomadic hunters and warriors. They followed the buffalo which provided them with all the necessities of life. Their food, clothing and teepees all came from the buffalo. The buffalo was the Indian staff of life and the Assinboine and Gros Ventre and other plains tribes lived a good life with the buffalo. The last herd of buffalo in the continental United States in the nineteenth century existed between the Bear Paw Mountains and the Little Rocky Mountains in the lush Milk River valley.

Today, the two tribes are united as one government called the Fort Belknap Indian Community. Together, the tribes have formed and maintained a community that has deep respect for it's land, it's culture, and it's heritage. Fort Belknap derives its name from the original military post that was established on the Milk River, one mile southwest of the present town of Chinook, Montana. The Fort, named for William W. Belknap, who was the Secretary of War at that time, was a military fort combined with a Trading Post. It became a Government agency for the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Indians living in the area.