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Gros Ventre also known as “Atsina”, “A'ani” Pitek, Emily


The Gros Ventre are native to the plains of North America. The name “Gros Ventre” is a French interpretation of their sign language, and translates to “large belly”. This Algonkian-speaking, historically nomadic people refer to themselves as A’ani, meaning “white-Clay People”, and are also known by the Blackfoot name Atsina. In the late 1880’s the Gros Ventre, along with the Assiniboin, were relocated to Fort Belknap Reservation in northern Montana. This entry focuses around the time of 1835-1885, with tribal territory centering around the Milk River, and the Belknap Reservation representing a small portion of Gros Ventre held land. Principal ethnographic authorities use fieldwork, informant accounts, and primary documents to reconstruct Gros Ventre life prior to 1885, which marked the end of the buffalo era and the beginning of consistent missionary contact. The Gros Ventre were traditionally comprised of about 12 bands, each led by a respective chief who was distinguished in war and recognized as the band’s leader. Each band also had a Flat Pipe and a Feathered Pipe Keeper, both of whom served as religious leaders while also possessing political influence. The bands would periodically come together as a tribal unit, which was led by a tribal leader. Ceremonial organization cut across band organization, and most religious ceremonies were held at the tribal level. Gros Ventre political and religious life were interwoven, and this entry considers the religious group to be coterminous with the society at large. Gros Ventre religious beliefs included a Supreme Being, who was considered to be the ultimate ruler and controller of all other supernatural beings, as well as the Earth and its inhabitants. The Supreme Being ranked highest in importance; he was always invoked first and received first offerings. Also present in the superntatural realm were ghosts and ancestral spirit helpers, as well as other non-human supernatural beings like Bha’a, the storm ruler or the thunderbird.

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