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What is the Assiniboine Tribe?

By Jessica Hobby
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Assiniboine Tribe is a group of Native Americans from the Northern Great Plains area of North America. Their home lies along the present day border of the United States and Canada in Montana, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Well known in the late 1700s and early 1800s, the Assiniboine are best known for their encounter with Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their famous expedition to explore the new land of the Louisiana Purchase.

The word Assiniboine is derived from the Ojibwe name given to the tribe, which translates as “stone water people.” Historians conclude that the Ojibwe called them this because they boiled the majority of their food with hot stones. The same rationale explains why the Assiniboines are called the Stoney Indians in Canada. They refer to themselves as Nakoda, which is also the name of their native language and translates to “the allies.” Assiniboines who lived in Canada spoke a different dialect of Nakoda than those who resided in the United States. Although the language has been preserved, all modern day Assiniboines speak English.

Because the Assiniboine are sometimes referred to as the Stony Sioux, many people assume they are Sioux Indians. The Assiniboine are related to the Sioux tribes of Lakota and Dakota because their languages are similar. However, the Sioux Indians and the Assiniboine tribe have historically been enemies who often fought one another.

The people of the Assiniboine Tribe were big game hunters and gatherers who lived in teepees. They were able to disassemble their village within one hour because of their semi-nomadic lifestyle that involved following herds of bison. The Assiniboine regularly traded with Europeans and other Native American tribes such as the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara. They used dogs and horses, introduced by the Europeans, to move their belongings across the land.

The traditional culture of the Assiniboine tribe was patriarchal, because only men could be chiefs, hunters and warriors. However, women had very important roles within the tribe. Women owned the homes and were responsible for building the home after a move, cooking and cleaning. The Assiniboine have a rich culture that includes storytelling, artwork, music and indigenous medicine.

Members of the Assiniboine tribe wore traditional Indian garb depicted in stereotypical images of Native Americans. Women wore long dresses made of animal skins and men wore loincloths, war-bonnets and buffalo headdresses. Both wore moccasins and additional coverage was added during the cold months of winter.

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Discussion Comments
By ValleyFiah — On Oct 07, 2011

@Istria- I live in Arizona, and I have actually built a couple of traditional tipis. My parents have a lot of Land in central Arizona. I helped my father build a tipi on the property before he passed, and in reading the directions for building it, I learned a little about the history of the tipi. After his passing, the tipi blew down in a heavy storm, so I gathered a few friends and rebuilt it before his memorial ceremony.

Almost all of the nomadic plains tribes that used to follow the buffalo herds across central North America used tipis. The structures offered light, durable housing that was easily packed away and reconstructed.

Some of the tribes that used tipis are the Blackfoot, the Sioux, the Cheyenne and the Comanche.

Traditional tipis are often painted with tribal symbols and made of stacked or sewn hides from bison. They can be anywhere from 12 to 25 feet in diameter, so they can house a large family or hunting group around a central fire. The design also allows for convection cooling in the summer, and good insulation in the winter.

By GiraffeEars — On Oct 06, 2011

I just wanted to point out that this tribe must have had cultural and historic significance in Canada since they named a Canadian Royal Navy Destroyer after the tribe. The ship HMCS Assiniboine served in the Canadian Fleet for almost 35 years. I know this does not have much to do with the Assiniboine tribe, but I found it interesting nonetheless.

By istria — On Oct 06, 2011

What did the Assiniboine costumes look like compared to other American Indian costumes? Were the Assiniboine's the only tribe that used the teepee, or is this type of housing common amongst a number of tribes? Were all of the tribes in the region nomadic, or were there tribes in the upper Midwest that remained in one place year round?

I have always thought that the tribes in this region of North America were very interesting because they lived in place with long winter seasons. People must have been hardy to survive long winters where food must have been somewhat scarce.

By GlassAxe — On Oct 05, 2011

@Georgesplane, Chicada & Submariner- I would have to disagree with all of you that all Native American history should be taught. While the subject of Southwest Native American history may be an interesting college course, it is not necessarily a part of United States history until the area they lived in was colonized by the United States. Up until that point, Native American Tribes had little to do with U.S. history and the period the subject covers. Indigenous history is not always a part of U.S. history.

Hawaii is a special case, and when the once sovereign nation was colonized by a private company (Dole I think), and then the United States, Preservation of the history was part of the agreement of statehood. Although the history of the country before the arrival of Dole fruit had little impact on the United States, the island's history must be taught as part of state curriculum...or at least that is how it was about a decade ago (I studied through high school in Hawaii myself).

By submariner — On Oct 04, 2011

How many Indian tribes were there in North America around the time the Europeans landed on these shores? Are most of the tribes concentrated in the southwestern parts of the United States, or is this a misconception perpetuated in the movies and old media? Do all the Indain tribes that were here when Europeans first landed still have ancestors alive, or are there tribes that are now "extinct" for lack of the proper word?

I agree with georgesplane that these types of things should be included more in American history. All I know of is the trail of tears, but that came after the tribes were defeated. I never really learned much about what caused many of the Indian/American wars. I wonder if the reasons for conquering these people would still hold today, or if there would be no chance in the nether regions of something like this going down in modern times.

By chicada — On Oct 03, 2011

@Georgesplane- While I agree that the Assiniboine tribe history and the tribal history of other indigenous groups are not usually taught in most schools, this is not the case everywhere in the United States.

I spent most of my childhood years in Hawaii, and it was mandatory that students learned Native Hawaiian history throughout primary and secondary school. I remember learning about Hawaiian social structure and about the Hawaiian language. I also remember learning about Hawaiian Polytheism, and the interaction of the islands. I also remember learning about Hawaiian Music and learning to play the ukulele. I learned about all of these subjects before I was finished with the sixth grade.

The islands, especially the big island, retain their culture to this day. Living on the islands and learning about the history of the islands helped shape who I am, and what I am studying now. I learned to have a greater appreciation for the earth, and ended up pursuing a degree and career in the geological sciences because of these experiences.

By Georgesplane — On Oct 03, 2011

This was a really informative article. I have always been curious about American Indian tribal history because I believe it has been largely lost on the population of this country. Just because the history may be inconvenient does not mean that it should be ignored. Unbiased history is the only true history.

Why is it that Native American history is not taught more in this country? Is Native American history seen as a threat to the ideology that this nation is founded upon? Indian culture is so rich and it should be celebrated.

I used to live on the West Coast, and I went to a number of Native American cultural events. I have been to pow-wows, festivals, coming of age ceremonies, and the likes and I never saw it as a threat to the American way of life. I am not Indian, but I still believe this country’s cultural diversity is what makes it so beautiful. I have been to other places where the aboriginal culture is celebrated, Australia and New Zealand, and there seem to be less social problems between racial groups--why not here?

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