Cultural Heritage of the Fort Belknap Indian Community
Established in 1869, the Fort Belknap Reservation is the home to two distinct Northern Nations, the Gros Ventre and the Assiniboine tribes. The reservation is located in north central Montana about 36 miles from the Canadian border, and encompasses approximately 638,000 acres of land (Fort Belknap Indian Community of Montana (more info) ). As of 2004, there were 6,528 enrolled tribal members: 2,697 Assiniboine and 3,730 Gros Ventre (Fort Belknap Tribal Land Department (more info) ). The tribes' economy is based on agriculture, which includes farming, ranching, and land leasing, including grazing permits. Crops include wheat, hay, and barley (Fort Belknap Indian Community of Montana (more info) ).
The Gros Ventre, who refer to themselves as "People of the White Clay," are of Algonquin stock and closely related to the Arapaho. In the 1700's, they joined with the Blackfeet, in an alliance that continued until the mid-1800's when cultural and social factors led to warring. Following the loss of a major battle to the Blackfeet, the Gros Ventre allied with the Assiniboine (Fort Belknap Indian Community of Montana (more info) ).
The Assiniboine, who called themselves "Nakota," meaning "The Generous Ones," are of Yanktonai Sioux ancestry (Fort Belknap Indian Community of Montana (more info) ). They initially lived in the Rainy Lake and Land of the Woods area along the Canadian border, and moved westward to the northern plains region in the early 1700's, searching for food. To facilitate hunting, the tribe broke into two bands, one group remaining in the northern plains to hunt bison. Before 1774, the Assiniboine divided again, with some moving south and west along the Missouri River. Epidemics ravaged their numbers, necessitating an alliance with the Cree against their common enemy, the Blackfeet. The Assiniboine were traditionally considered excellent hunters and horsemen.
Both tribes migrated west to Montana and Canada in the 1700's and 1800's. In 1885, a treaty was signed between the U.S. government and the Blackfeet, Flathead and Nez Perce Indians. The Gros Ventre signed the treaty as part of the Blackfeet Nation, whose territory then became common hunting grounds for all the signators, including the Assiniboine. In 1888, by an Act of Congress, these tribes ceded 17,500,000 acres of their joint reservation and agreed to live on three smaller reservations, known as the Blackfeet, Fort Peck and Fort Belknap (Fort Belknap Indian Community of Montana (more info) ). Today, the Gros Ventre and the Assiniboine are united as one government, called the Fort Belknap Indian Community.