Historical Photos from the Kainai Nation

The Kainai Nation, also known as the Blood Tribe, is the largest First Nation by area in all of Canada. Even though the modern-day reserve is the largest in this country, it pales in comparison to their traditional territory. The range of the Kainai People spanned from the Rocky Mountains in the west to the Great Sand Hills in the east, which is now Saskatchewan, and the North Saskatchewan River in the north to the Yellowstone River in Montana to the south.

Many Bears, Blood, Alberta, 1926-1947

The Kainai Nation is part of the Blackfoot Confederacy, or Siksikaitsitapi, which is comprised of the Piikani and the Siksika Nations, as well as the Aamskapi Pikuni in Montana. Traditionally, the Kainai were a nomadic people, following the great bison herds that provided their clothing, shelter, and sustenance. They had a reputation for being fierce warriors and their enemies included the Cree, Ktunaxa, Shoshone, and Crow Nations. During times of intense fighting, male Kainai would gain social prestige through acts of war.

Heavy Head, Blood, Alberta, 1926-1947

As with many Plains Indigenous cultures, Kainai traditions were shared orally from one generation to the next. This included important cultural practices such as sweat lodges, Sun Dances, the use of medicine bundles, and consultation with shamans for spiritual guidance and healing.

Charlie Goodrider and children, Blood, Alberta, 1930s

The true origin of the ‘Blood’ name is a disputed one and may have been lost to time. Some believe it is a rough translation of the Blackfoot word ‘Aaapan’, which means ‘blood’; possibly in reference to a traditional blood soup. Others infer that it was a mistranslation of a different Blackfoot word ‘Aapi’ or ‘white’, which is in reference to the ermine-skin regalia typically worn by Blood Chiefs. Others yet feel that the name was given to the Kainai People by the Cree or Kutenai People, who considered them dangerous enemies.

Holy procession at Blood sun dance, Alberta, 1930s

As with many other Indigenous people across Canada, the Kainai Nation’s culture has been threatened by the policies and practices of colonialism, including the Indian Act, residential schools, reserves, and the pass system. These acts have had ongoing impacts with Indigenous communities and have resulted in multi-generational trauma for many Indigenous people. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women are examples of the ongoing work of reconciliation in this country.

Holy procession at Blood sun dance, Alberta, 1930s
Fred Tailfeathers, Blood man, Alberta, 1930s
Bloods in traditional clothing, Alberta, 1930s
Blackfoot at Fort Macleod, Alberta. Possibly Bloods at Sun Dance, Blood reserve, Alberta, 1907 (Possibly 1896)
Beaver Claws, Blood, in traditional clothing, 1940s
Calf Robe and family, Blood, 1930-1936
Blood families in front of tipi, southern Alberta, 1903
Percy Creighton, Blood man, Alberta, 1930s
Owns Different Horses, Blood man, Alberta, 1930s
Joe Healy, Blood, 1920-1922
Sun Dance, Blood reserve, Alberta, 1913
Group of Bloods in traditional clothing, 1913
Blood men in traditional clothing on horseback, 1913
Blood families and tipis, Lethbridge, Alberta, 1910
Blood man on horseback, Lethbridge, Alberta, 1910
Blood travois, Lethbridge, Alberta, 1910
Blood pipes and beaded pouches, 1892
Shot on Both Sides, Blood man, Alberta, 1930s
Blood girl, Alberta, 1880
Blood boys, Alberta, 1880
Camp of Running Antelope, Fort Macleod area, Alberta, 1890-1909
Blood tipis, Fort Macleod area, Alberta, 1885-1900
Goose Chief, Blood man, with his two wives, southern Alberta, 1900
Red Crow and Bloods, southern Alberta, 1890-1899
Red Crow, southern Alberta, 1892

For similar collections, please see previous posts about the Tsuut’ina Nation, the Stoney Nakoda Nation, and the Siksika Nation.

Bird Rattler, Kainai man, Fort Macleod, Alberta, 1924

The photos above were collected from the Glenbow Archives. If you’re interested, additional information can be found for each photograph on the Glenbow website by searching the identification number that is printed on the photo. There is also the option to purchase a high resolution copy. Stay tuned for additional posts featuring historical photos from across Alberta. We’d love to know what you think in the comment section below.

About Tyler Dixon 193 Articles
Tyler is originally from Saskatchewan, and yes he cheers for the Roughriders, but don’t hold that against him as Calgary has been his home for the past eight years. He is a teacher working at a wilderness- based treatment program for youth working to overcome addiction. Tyler is also a volunteer with the GOT Parks initiative, which aims at reconnecting Canada’s youth with our national, provincial, and territorial parks. During his time away from work, Tyler enjoys outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, and snowboarding, team sports, travelling, photography, spending time with good friends, and being at home with his wife and German Shepherd, Rome.