Assiniboin Indians, Assiniboin First Nation, Assiniboin People (Chippewa: u’sin i ‘stone,’ u’pwäwa– ‘he cooks by roasting’: ‘one who cooks by the use of stones.’). A large Siouan tribe, originally constituting a part of the Yanktonai. Their separation from the parent stem, to judge by the slight dialectal difference in the language, could not have greatly preceded the appearance of the whites, but it must have taken place before 1640, as the Jesuit Relation for that year mentions the Assiniboin as distinct. The Relation of 1658 places them in the vicinity of Lake Alimibeg, between Lake Superior and Hudson Bay.
On Jefferys’ map of 1762 this name is applied to Lake Nipigon, and on De l’Isle’s map of 1703 to Rainy Lake. From a tradition found in the widely scattered bodies of the tribe and heard by the first Europeans who visited the Dakota, the Assiniboin appear to have separated from their ancestral stem while the latter resided somewhere in the region about the headwaters of the Mississippi, whence they moved northward and joined the Cree. It is probable that they first settled about Lake of the Woods, then drift northwestward to the region about Lake Winnipeg, where they were living as early as 1670, and were thus located on Lahontan’s map of 1691.
Assiniboin Tribe History
Chauvignerie (1736) place them in the same region. Dobbs (Hudson Bay, 1744) located one division of the Assiniboin some distance northwest of Lake Winnipeg and the other immediately west of an unidentified lake placed north of Lake Winnipeg. These divisions he distinguishes as Assiniboin of the Meadows and Assiniboin of the Woods. In 1775 Henry found the tribe scattered along Saskatchewan and Assiniboine rivers, from the forest limit well up to the headwaters of the former, and this region, between the Sioux on the south and the Siksika on the west, was the country over which they continued to range until gathered on reservations. Hayden 1Hayden, Ethnog. and Philol. Mo. Val., 1862 limits their range at that time as follows: “The Northern Assiniboin roam over the country from the west banks of the Saskatchewan and Assiniboin rivers, in a west direction to the Woody Mountains, north and west amongst some of the small outliers of the Rocky Mountains east of the Missouri, and on the banks of the small lakes frequently met with on the plains in that district. They consist of 250 or 300 lodges. The remainder of the tribe, now  reduced to 250 lodges, occupy the district defined as follows: Commencing at the mouth of the White Earth River on the east, extending up that river to and as far beyond its source as the Grand Coulée and the head of La Rivière aux Souris, thence northwest along the Côteau de Prairie, or divide, as far as the beginning of the Cypress mountains, on the north fork of Milk River, down that river to its junction with the Missouri, thence down the Missouri to White Earth River, the starting point. Until the year 1838 the tribe still numbered from 1,000 to 1,200 lodges, trading on the Missouri, when the smallpox reduced them to less than 400 lodges. They were also surrounded by large and hostile tribes, who continually made war upon them, and in this way their number was diminished, though at the present time they are slowly on the increase.”
From the time they separated from the parent stem and joined the Cree until brought under control of the whites, they were almost constantly at war with the Dakota. As they have lived since the appearance of the whites in the northwest almost wholly on the plains, without permanent villages, moving from place to place in search of food, their history has been one of conflict with surrounding tribes.
Assiniboin Tribe Culture
Physically the Assiniboin do not differ materially from the other Sioux. The men dress their hair in various forms; it is seldom cut, but as it grows is twisted into small locks or tails, and frequently false hair is added to lengthen the twist. It sometimes reaches the ground, but is generally wound in a coil on top of the head. Their dress, tents, and customs generally are similar to those of the Plains Cree, but they observe more decorum in camp and are more cleanly, and their hospitality is noted by most traders who have visited them. Polygamy is common.
While the buffalo abounded their principal occupation consisted in making pemmican, which they bartered to the whites for liquor, tobacco, powder, balls, knives, etc. Dogs are said to have been sacrificed to their deities. According to Alexander Henry, if death happened in winter at a distance from the burial ground of the fancily, the body was carried along during their journeying and placed on a scaffold, out of reach of dogs and beasts of prey, at their stopping places. Arrived at the burial place, the corpse was deposited in a sitting posture in a circular grave about 5 feet deep, lined with bark or skins; it was then covered with bark, over which logs were placed, and these in turn were covered with earth.
Assiniboin Tribe Nation
The names of their bands or divisions, as given by different writers, vary considerably, owing to the loose organization and wandering habit of the tribe. Lewis and Clark mention as divisions in 1805:
(1) Menatopa (Otaopabinè of Maximilian), Gens de Feuilles [for filles] (Itscheabinè), Big Devils (Watopachnato), Oseegah, and another the name of which is not stated. The whole people were divided into the northern and southern and into the forest and prairie bands. Maximilian (Tray., 194, 1843) names their gentes as follows:
- (1) Itscheabinè (gens des filles);
- (2) Jatonabinè (gens des roches);
- (3) Otopachgnato (gens du large);
- (4) Otaopabinè (gens des canots);
- (5) Tschantoga (gens des bois);
- (6) Watopachnato (gens de l’age);
- (7) Tanintauei (gens des osayes);
- (8) Chabin (gens des montagnes).
A band mentioned by Hayden (op. cit., 387), the Minishinakato, has not been identified with any named by Maximilian. Henry (Jour., II, 522-523, 1897) enumerated 11 bands in 1808, of which the Red River, Rabbit, Eagle Hills, Saskatchewan, Foot, and Swampy (round Assiniboin, and Those-who- have – water- for- themselves only can not be positively identified. This last may be Hayden’s Minishinakato.
Other divisions mentioned, chiefly geographical, are: Assiniboin of the Meadows, Turtle Mountain Sioux, Wawaseeasson, and Assabaoch (?). The only Assiniboin village mentioned in print is Pasquayah.
Porter (1829) estimated the Assiniboin population at 8,000; Drake at 10,000 before the smallpox epidemic of 1836, during which 4,000 of them perished. Gallatin (1836) placed the number at 6,000; the U. S. Indian Report of 1843, at 7,000. In 1890 they numbered 3,008; in 1904, 2,600.
The Assiniboin now (1904) living in the United States are in Montana, 699 under Ft Belknap agency and 535 under Ft Peck agency; total, 1,234. In Canada there were in 1902 the Mosquito and Bears Head’s and Lean Man’s bands at Battleford agency, 78; Joseph’s band of 147, Paul’s of 147, and 5 orphans at Edmonton agency; Carry-the-Kettle band under Assiniboin agency, 210; Pheasant Rump’s band, originally 69, and Ocean Man’s, 68 in number, at Moose Mountain; and the bands on Stony reservation, Alberta, 661; total, 1,371.
For Further Study
The following articles and manuscripts will shed additional light on the Assiniboin as both an ethnological study, and as a people.
- Powell in 7th Rep. B. A. E.., 111, 1891.
- McGee, Siouan Indians, 15th Rep. B. A. E., 157, 1897.
- Dorsey, Siouan Sociology, ibid., 213.
- Hayden, Ethnog. and Philol. Mo. Val., 1862.
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