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Topic – Peoples of the Plains

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Peoples of the Plains

The area known today as Canada’s Prairies is where the Peoples of the Plains lived—and still do. They travelled across what is now Alberta, Saskatchewan, and much of Manitoba.

Canadian prairies

Following the herds of buffalo, these First Nations moved around throughout the year. They stopped in winter only to set up their tipis in valleys that protected them from blowing winds. The Peoples of the Plains included such groups as the Assiniboine (Nakoda), Kainai (Blood), Nehiyauak (Plains Cree), Pikuni (Peigan), and Siksika (Blackfoot).

Tipi Life

Weasel Calf, Siksika Nation, 1910

The Peoples of the Plains lived in tipis, both when they were travelling and when they settled in an area. These homes were easy to transport and set up.

First, a frame of pine poles was set up in a cone shape and tied near the top. Next, buffalo hides were placed over the frame and fastened in place. Pegs and rocks kept the tipi upright, no matter how hard the winds blew.

To move a tipi, it was taken apart and the poles and hides placed on a travois. This is a frame made by fastening two pine poles together in a V-shape. A travois was pulled by a dog or, after the early 1700s, a horse. Wood was scarce on the Prairies so the pine poles were precious and carefully saved.

Bands of between 50 and 100 First Nations lived together in a settlement. Each band had about 30 or 40 tipis.

Hunters of the Buffalo

buffalo

Buffalo provided the Plains people with meat, clothing, tools, and much more. The huge animals were vital to the survival of these First Nations, so they had a number of ways of hunting the buffalo (which is also known as bison). 

The hunters could guide the animals into a corral that they couldn’t escape. Or the Plains people chased a herd of buffalo to a cliff, where the animals would fall over the edge. These were known as buffalo jumps, which is how Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, in Alberta, got its name.

Not all the buffalo meat could be eaten at once, so some were dried. Women then pounded it into a powder and mixed it with hot fat and dried berries. Next, it was pressed into a loaf to make long-lasting, lightweight, nutritious food for the men when they were out on the trails.

drinking horn

The Peoples of the Plains used buffalo hides to make clothing and the animals’ bones for tools. Buffalo tendons were used as thread, the horns as cups, and the tail as whisks. 

As well as buffalo, the Peoples of the Plains also hunted elk, prairie chickens, and pronghorn antelopes. They used bows and arrows, snares, and spears to catch these animals. 

Quillwork

Knife sheath with colourful quillwork

Plains people are famous for using porcupine quills to create intricate embroidery. They added this quillwork to their animal-skin bags, clothing, and moccasins, among other items. Quills from different parts of the porcupine’s body had different uses. For instance, the quills from the porcupine’s tail were used for fringes and the thin quills from the belly for fine, delicate lines of embroidery.


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