Changes in Attitudes Beliefs and Practices Regarding Gender

Imposition of European American/European Canadian rule after the 1870s abolished polygyny, although households of older people might continue with more than one "housewife," as politely termed. Boys and men were compelled to dress more fully than had been customary. Otherwise, there were relatively few changes regarding gender for Blackfoot. Missionaries perpetuated the homemaker role for girls and outside worker for boys. Women were less visible in leader roles; for example, few were elected to the Tribal Business Council. Unlike some reservations, the Blackfoot did not go through a period in the mid-20th century of predominantly women elected and appointed leaders, creating a backlash among men who felt disenfranchised.

In the last third of the 20th century, English rapidly replaced Blackfoot in daily use. This meant that Blackfoot were using Indo-European "sex" gender syntax (he-she-it), disregarding the animate-inanimate distinction used in Blackfoot speech. Whether this affected attitudes is difficult to evaluate, since much else changed—families moved from hamlets on the range to clustered housing in the agency town, a community college was created, network television came to homes, and an increasing proportion of the growing population is employed and living off-reservation.

Not a change, but indicative of continuing recognition of "leader-hearted women," the Montana Blackfeet reservation member Elouise Cobell achieved national recognition when she instituted a lawsuit in 1996 against the U.S. Department of the Interior, demanding accounting for the millions of dollars it held in trust for U.S. Indians. Mrs. Cobell had studied accounting in an off-reservation college, been appointed treasurer for the Tribe, and had taken over the defunct local bank, managing it to success. When her requests for documentation of Blackfeet trust funds were consistently ignored, she found an attorney to pursue the case. Mrs. Cobell's outstanding ability brought her a 1997 MacArthur Foundation "genius" award, which she used for legal fees. Contemporary with Elouise Cobell, revitalization of Blackfoot heritage on the Montana reservation is forwarded by men and women such as Darrell Robes Kipp, who holds a Harvard graduate degree, his colleague in language revival Dr. Dorothy Still Smoking, the native plant expert Wilbert Fish Sr., and faculty of Blackfeet Community College. On the Canadian side, men and women of Red Crow College in Alberta similarly carry on the Blackfoot heritage.

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