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Who are the Assiniboine Indians?

By Brenda Scott
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Assiniboine Indians, who call themselves the Nakota, are a tribe of Native Americans located in the state of Washington and southwestern Canada. They are closely related to the Dakota Sioux, a fact confirmed by the similarity in language. Originally part of the Sioux tribe, they broke away in the seventeenth century and became allies with the Ojibwa, bitter enemies of the Dakota. Over the next two centuries, the Sioux and Assiniboine Indians were frequently at war with one another.

Nakota means "allies of the people." The name Assiniboine was given to them by the Ojibwa and means "those who cook with stones," while Canadian trappers who had observed their cooking methods called them Stonies. The women would heat rocks, and then drop the rocks into kettles of water. The rocks would cause the water to boil, cooking the food.

The Assiniboine Indians were a migratory band involved in hunting and trapping. At the turn of the eighteenth century, the tribe was still located in what is now Minnesota and northwest Ontario. In 1735, they joined the Ojibwas and Cree to form the Iron Confederation, which was later joined by the Blackfoot. Fighting together and equipped with horses and European weapons, the Confederation successfully pressed across the northwestern Great Plains, defeating any who opposed them. In time their territory stretched from the southern area of South Dakota north into Canada and from Minnesota west into Montana.

The Assiniboine had a very loose political structure which was divided into bands that traveled and hunted in a specific territory. A man was considered to be a part of the band into which he was born until he married, when he would choose to either stay in his band or join that of his bride. The bands were friendly and informal, and moving from one band to another or starting up a new band was acceptable. Assiniboine Indians identified themselves with tattoos. The men would wear tribal markings on their arms and chest, and the women would tattoo spirit lines on their faces.

In the 1600s, the Assiniboine Indians were estimated to have a population around 10,000. The tribe was frequently at war, which had a negative impact on the male population. A smallpox epidemic in 1838 killed between one-half and two-thirds of the tribe’s members. In 2010, there were estimated to be just over 5,000 Assiniboine Indians living in the United States and Canada.

In Canada, the Assiniboine Indians live in a number of settlements located throughout Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Jesuit maps and journals from the mid-seventeenth century confirm that the Assiniboine were present in the Manitoba region, and they are considered one of the eight principal tribes of the First Nations of Canada. A slaughter of a group of Assiniboine warriors by wolf hunters who mistakenly thought the natives were responsible for the theft of their horses is credited with leading to the formation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

In the US, the tribes share two reservations in Montana. The Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, only 40 miles (64.27 km) from the Canada border, is shared with the Gros Ventra tribe. Most of the population lives on small ranches and farms, and the reservation is home to a tribally owned meat packing plant. The second Montana reservation, Fort Peck Indian Reservation, is shared with their former enemies, the Sioux. While ranching and farming is also active here, the tribes have a growing manufacturing sector involved in metal fabrication, commercial sewing, electronics manufacturing and oil extraction.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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