The Assiniboine 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, and in the United States they are known as the Assiniboine. Through years of separation, differences in dialect and customs have developed between the two branches of this tribe, however the Assiniboine still remember their common origins, and consider themselves a single people.
Pierre Jean Desmet, a French Jesuit missionary of the early 19th Century stated that the Assiniboine were once members of the Yanktonai band of Dakota (Sioux). The oral tradition of the Assiniboine, however, refutes that claim. According to oral history in all Assiniboine tribal bands, their origins are Algonquin.
Tribal oral history states that the Assiniboine originated in the Lake of the Woods and Lake Winnipeg areas of Canada. The Assiniboine became close allies and trading partners of the Cree, engaging in wars together against the Atsina (=). Together they later fought the Blackfoot.
A Great Plains people, they generally went no further North than the North Saskatchewan River. They purchased European trade goods from the Hudson’s Bay Company through Cree middlemen.
Divisions and Language
In 1744, a division was noted, and “the people” divided again with some bands moving west into the Valleys of the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan Rivers in Canada. Others moved South into the Missouri Valley. Bands also inhabited an area from the White Earth, Minnesota, West to the Sweet Grass Hills of Montana. Some 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.
There have been thirty-three bands of Assiniboine identified. According to Edwin T. Denig, the Assiniboine returned to the Missouri region between 1800 and 1837, numbering approximately 1,200 at that time.
The Assiniboine language is a dialect of Dakota/Mississippi Valley Siouan language, a subdivision of the Western Siouan language. Ken Ryan, an Assiniboine from the Fort Peck Reservation, used the International Phonetic Alphabet to develop a phonetic Assiniboine alphabet. He found that there are 26 phonemes, 20 consonants, and 6 vowels in the language. Today, about 150 people speak the Assiniboine language (A’ M̆oqazh. The majority of Assiniboine today speak only American English. The 2000 census showed 3,946 tribal members living in the United States.
Game Hunting, Trade, Rituals
The Assiniboine were typically semi-nomadic large game hunters, living in tipis and dependent on the Buffalo, using Buffalo hides for clothing and receptacles. They hunted on horseback with bow and arrow. The tribe is known for its excellent horsemanship. They first obtained Horses by trading with the Blackfeet and the Gros Ventre tribes.
By 1750 the Assiniboine hunting grounds embraced all the Canadian prairies. Both the Canadian and U.S. branches of this tribe 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. The Dog was the only aboriginal domestic animal and was generally used to carry packs and pull travois.
The Assiniboine did a considerable amount of trading with Europeans in the fur trade. They worked with the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes.
Most Assiniboine attached great importance to visions, and these took precedence in religious life. Ceremonies and rites were performed individually or in groups, including offerings, prayers, the singing of sacred songs and the solemn unfolding of a pack containing sacred objects. 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. Ceremonial rituals included sacrifices, fasting, and a variety of prayers.