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image: Assiniboin Indians
Photograph by Edward S. Curtis
Assiniboin Indians

First Noted by Expedition
November 15, 1804

Originally part of the Sioux Nation, the Assiniboin were a nomadic northern Plains tribe located in present-day northeastern Montana and nearby Canada. They traded meat to the British in exchange for favored European goods—guns, ammunition, knives. In turn these goods were traded for horses, tobacco, and produce. Every year, the Assiniboin would travel south along the Missouri to the Mandan-Hidatsa settlements at the confluence of the Knife and Missouri Rivers, expanding their trade territory.

Lewis and Clark encountered the Assiniboin around November 15, 1804, during the tribe's annual sojourn near the Mandan. Mandan Chief Black Cat brought the Assiniboin band Chief Chechank (Old Crane) to meet the expedition members and receive gifts. The Corps also witnessed the "adoption" ritual in which the Mandan and Assiniboin become temporary relations. This smoothed over the usual rivalries that might have inhibited trade.

Lewis saw the Assiniboin as a hindrance to the plan to make the Mandan-Hidatsa trade alliance turn to the St. Louis, Missouri, traders for their European goods. The Assiniboin would have seen this as contrary to their own success. There were reports that the Assiniboin had threatened the Mandan if they continued to pursue an alliance with the Americans.

When Lewis and Clark headed west from Fort Mandan in spring 1805, they successfully avoided the Assiniboin bands that hunted the stretch of the Missouri they passed through.

In recent times, the Assiniboin have settled on reservations on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. The 1990 census counted about 5,500 people, settled mostly at Forts Belknap and Peck in Montana. An additional 1,500 Assiniboin live in Canada.
image: Assiniboin Indians
Painting by Karl Bodmer/Historical Picture Archive/Corbis

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