Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes (Fort Belknap)

 Fort Belknap Prairie

(Fort Belknap prairie)

This circle represents the region of North-Central Montana and the people and plants of the Fort Belknap Reservation. This eco-region is broadly classified as Great Plains Mixed-grass Prairie and is a more precisely characterized by Rocky Mountain Lower Montane, Foothill, and Valley Grassland system. The Fort Belknap Indian Reservation encompasses a land area of 675,147 acres and consists of mostly rolling plains, with the Little Rocky Mountains located at the southern end of the reservation. Besides being home to many culturally significant plants, the Fort Belknap Reservation is also home to some important native prairie fauna, including the Bison, Pronghorn, Black-footed Ferret and the Greater Sage-Grouse. 

Gros Ventre Assiniboine Elders

Gros Ventre Camp, Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, Montana

The People

The Native American Indian Tribes that make up the indigenous people of the Fort Belknap Reservation are the Gros Ventre or (Aaniiih) meaning “White Clay People” and the Assiniboine or (Nakoda) meaning “generous ones”. Both tribes were originally known to have migrated westward into the Northern Plains from the Great Lakes region. The Gros Ventre originally migrated with the Arapaho and Cheyenne people, but sometime after arriving in the area now known as Montana, the Arapaho and Cheyenne eventually moved southward, while the Gros Ventre joined with the Blackfeet Tribe.

The according to Assiniboine oral history their origins are Algonquin. Their people are thought to have divided sometime in the 1700s, when some bands moved west into Canada, and others moved south into the Missouri Valley. With the signing of the Fort Laramie treaties of 1851 and 1855, Fort Belknap became a reservation in 1888. The Fort Belknap Reservation is all that remains of the vast ancestral territory once inhabited by the Blackfeet and Assiniboine Nations.

The Plants

Blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata):

Blanket Flower Gaillardia aristata

The Blanketflower is a perennial member of the Aster family that flowers in the mid-summer months. It has a tall hairy stem with a single daisy-like flower. It has ray flowers that are mostly yellow with a large red center. Found mainly in grasslands, meadows, plains, valleys and some montane regions. The Blanketflower has a wide range and can be found throughout much of Canada and the Northern and Southwestern United States. The Blanketflower was used as a medicinal to treat stomach problems, diarrhea and urination problems by many tribes including the Blackfeet, Navaho and Hopi. The Blackfoot also used the root to treat skin ailments, sore nipples of nursing mothers, saddle sore and eye and nose problems. The Cheyenne were also known to use the flower to treat sunstroke.

Buffaloberry (Shepherdia canadensis):

Shepherdia Canadensis – Buffaloberry (jpc.raleigh/flickr)

Silver Buffaloberry is a deciduous shrub and member of the Oleaster family that flowers in June. It has a tall erect stem with silvery green leaves and pale yellow petal-less flowers that turn into bright red fleshy berries around August. Found mainly in grasslands, riparian thickets, forests and plains. The Buffaloberry has a very wide range existing all throughout Canada, much of the Western and Central United States and parts of the Northeastern U.S. The Buffaloberry was used by many North American tribes of the continental United States. Its’ berries were used as a food source for many tribes, but it was also used for medicinal purposes as well. The Blackfoot used the Buffaloberry as a gastrointestinal aid. The Navajo used it to treat fevers, and the Cheyenne and Dakota tribes were also known to use the plant for medicinal and ceremonial purposes.

Western Meadowrue (Thalictrum occidentale):

Thalictrum occidentale - Western Meadowrue (J Brew/Flickr)

The Western Meadowrue is a perennial member of the Buttercup family that flowers from May-July. It has short hairy stems with loose-branched clusters of greenish purple drooping inflorescences that lack petals. Found mainly in meadows, thickets, ditches and stream banks. The Western Meadowrue has a wide range existing throughout much of the Western United States and Canada including Alaska. The Blackfoot Indians had many uses for the Meadowrue. They used it as a cosmetic for the hair and body, as a tea to treat chest pains, and to flavor pemmican. The Bella Coola chewed the root to treat headaches, eye troubles, sore legs and improve blood circulation. The Blood tribe was also known to use Meadowrue as a smudge to repel insects.

Prairie Conflower (Ratibida columnifera):

Prairie Coneflower

The Prairie Coneflower is a perennial member of the Aster family that flowers from June-August. It has a tall stem with droopy yellow ray flowers and a cone-like green center that eventually changes to a dark purple or brown. Found mainly in prairies, plains and along roadsides. The Prairie coneflower has a wide range existing from Southern Canada, and throughout most of the U.S to Northern Mexico. The Prairie Coneflower was used by many Native American tribes of the Northern Plains for both food and medicine. The Dakota, and Oglala used the leaves and cone-shaped heads to make an edible tea. The Cheyenne, Lakota and Sicangu used the tea for medicinal purposes to treat head and stomach pain, fever, poison ivy and rattlesnake bites.

White Prairie Aster (Symphyotrichum falacatum):

White Prairie Aster

The White prairie aster is a perennial member of the Aster family that flowers from July-August. It has a tall stem with numerous clusters of smaller white ray flowers and a yellow corolla. Found mainly in grassland, dry meadows, plains, and valleys. The White prairie aster has a wide range existing from Northern Canada throughout the Central U.S and Northern Mexico. The Prairie Aster was used by Native American Tribes of the Great Plains region for medicinal purposes. The roots were commonly dried and pounded into a powder and used on cuts to stop bleeding. Its roots were also be boiled into a liquid, then cooled and used as eyewash. 

Gumbo Lily (Oenothera cespisota):

Gumbo Lily

The Tufted Evening Primrose or (Gumbo Lily) is a perennial member of the evening primrose family that flowers from May-July. It is short to the ground with a single white flower with four petals that bloom at night and turn pink as it ages.  Found mainly on dry, rocky or gravelly prairie and hillsides. The Gumbo lily has a wide range existing throughout much of Western and Central North America. The Gumbo lily was used medicinally by several different Native American tribes from the Northern Plains to the American Southwest. The Blackfoot, Gosiute, Isleta, Navajo, Kayenta and Hopi all used the plant to reduce swelling. It was also used by some tribes to treat sores, prolapse of the uterus and toothaches. The Assiniboine were also known to use the flower as an indicator species.

Species List:

  • Blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata)
  • Blue Gramma (Bouteloua gracilis
  • Elk Sedge (Carex garberi Fernald)
  • Golden Currant (Ribes aureum Pursh var. villosum)
  • Idaho Fescue (Festuca idahoensis Elmer)
  • Maximilian's Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani)
  • Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
  • Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum)
  • Silver Buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea)
  • Twin (prairie) Arnica (Arnica sororia)
  • Western Meadowrue (Thalictrum occidentale)
  • Western Snowberry (Symphoricarpos occidentalis)
  • Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)