The Gros Ventre also known as the Aaniiih, A’aninin, Haaninin, Atsina, and White Clay, are a historically Algonquian-speaking Native American tribe located in north central Montana. Today the Gros Ventre people are enrolled in the Fort Belknap Indian Community of the Fort Belknap Reservation of Montana, a federally recognized tribe with 3,682 enrolled members, that also includes Assiniboine people or Nakoda people, the Gros Ventre’s historical enemies. The Fort Belknap Indian Reservation is in the northernmost part of Montana, just south of the small town of Harlem, Montana. Chiefs: The Belly Government Council
The tribal self-name ʔɔʔɔɔ̋ɔ́niinénnɔh (adapted as A’aninin, Aaniiih, or Haaninin) means “White Clay People”.
The French used the term Gros Ventre, which was mistakenly interpreted from their sign language. They were once known as the Gros Ventres of the Prairies, while the Hidatsa people were once called the Gros Ventres of the Missouri.
The Piegan Blackfoot, enemies of the Gros Ventre throughout most of history, called the Aaniiih Piksííksiinaa, which translates as “snakes”. According to the Piegan Institute, the contemporary Blackfoot name for the Gros Ventre is Assinee meaning “big bellies”,[citation needed] similar to the falsely translated label applied by the French. Atsina, possibly the same Blackfoot word in another dialect, is said to translate to either “gut people” or “like a Cree”. The word used by all Blackfoot-speaking tribes for “Cree” is Assinaa, making this etymology more likely, but further clarification of the name is required. After the division of peoples, their relations the Arapaho, who considered them inferior, called them Hitúnĕna, meaning “beggars”.[8] Other interpretations of the term have been “hunger”, “waterfall”, and “big bellies”.
The Gros Ventres are believed to have lived in the western Great Lakes region 3000 years ago, where they lived an agrarian lifestyle, cultivating maize. With the ancestors of the Arapaho, they formed a single, large Algonquian-speaking people who lived along the Red River valley in northern present-day Minnesota and in Manitoba, Canada. They were closely associated with the ancestors of the Cheyenne. They spoke the now nearly extinct Gros Ventre language (Atsina), a similar Plains Algonquian language like their kin the Arapaho and grouped therefore as an Arapahoan language (Arapaho-Atsina). There is evidence that, together with bands of Northern Arapaho, a southern tribal group, the Staetan, spoke the Besawunena dialect, which had speakers among the Northern Arapaho as
In the early 18th century, the large tribe split into two, forming the Gros Ventres and the Arapaho. These, with the Cheyenne, were among the last to migrate into Montana, due to pressure from the Ojibwe.[1] After they migrated to Montana, the Arapaho moved southwards to the Wyoming and Colorado area. The Cheyenne who migrated with the Gros Ventre and Arapaho also migrated onwards. The Gros Ventres were reported living in two north-south tribal groups – the so-called Fall Indians (Canadian or northern group, Hahá-tonwan) of 260 tipis (2,500 population) traded with the North West Company on the Upper Saskatchewan River[clarification needed] and roamed between the Missouri and Bow River, and the so-called Staetan tribe (American or southern group) of 40 tipis (400 population) living in close contact with bands (which would become the later Northern Arapaho) and roamed the headwaters of the Loup branch of the North Platte River (Lewis and Clark 1806).
The Gros Ventres acquired horses in the mid-18th century.The earliest known contact of Gros Ventres with settlers was around 1754, between the north and south forks of the Saskatchewan River. Exposure to smallpox severely reduced their numbers about this time. Around 1793, in response to attacks by well-armed Cree and Assiniboines, large groups of Gros Ventres burned two Hudson’s Bay Company trading posts that were providing guns to the Cree and Assiniboine tribes in what is now Saskatchewan.

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