The Blackfoot confederacy consists of the Kainai-Blood Tribe, Siksika, Peigan-Piikani and Aamskapi Pikuni in Browning, Montana. Jeanette Many Guns is Blackfoot and a member of the Siksika Nation.
Jeanette’s parents are Clifford Many Guns, grandnephew to Chief Crowfoot, and Rosaline Sitting Bull. Jeanette’s great-great-great-grandfather was born in the 1600s and was Chief of the entire Blackfoot Confederacy -- Chief Many Swans.
“He was a very fierce leader,” says Jeanette, adding that he was gifted by the thunder and lightning spirits. “If someone disagreed with him or said ‘no’ to him, he would kill them.”
Before colonization, Blackfoot territory reached from the North Saskatchewan River, to Winnipeg and close to the Wyoming border into the Rocky Mountains. Different clans lived along the borders. In the summer, Siksika would host a Sundance where all of Blackfoot Confederacy was invited.
During one of these Sundances, Chief Many Swans’ son, James Many Guns, was abducted. A family from Montana had recently lost their son, and when they saw James they were reminded of their boy. They brought him back to Heart Butte, Montana where he was raised. At the age of 15, James overheard his mother talking about the abduction, and he demanded that he be taken back to Siksika.
“He wanted to come back to meet his family,” says Jeanette. After meeting his family in Siksika, he decided to settle back into his traditional homelands where he had four wives and raised 11 children -- one of which was Jeanette’s grandfather, Tom Many Guns.
On Jeanette’s mother’s side, a famous Indigenous leader gave her family his name after meeting and befriending Jeanette’s great-grandfather. Shortly after Sitting Bull killed Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Montana, he came to Canada. There, he met Jeanette’s great-grandfather.
“There's two stories to this,” she says. “Sitting Bull had a big bodyguard, and he challenged my great-grandfather to beat him. My grandfather beat him, and Sitting Bull said, ‘okay, well, I don't have anything to give you, but I'll give you my name’.
The other story goes that when Sitting Bull saw my great-grandfather, he said, ‘we look alike. I’m going to take you as my brother and I'm going to give you my name.’ So, my great-grandfather's name was Sitting Bull.”
However, when Jeanette’s great-grandfather attended industrial school just outside of Calgary, they changed his name to Wells. The Sitting Bull name was lost on that side of the family.
“It makes me feel proud to be Blackfoot and to have that bloodline,” says Jeanette.