16×30 original pastel on suede painting based on a 1908 photograph by Edward Curtis. It is custom-framed under non-reflective glass. (Private Collection)
About the Painting
The Atsina people are often known by the name given to them by French traders, “Gros Ventre” (pronounced “Grow Vaunt”). They call themselves the A’aninin, or the White Clay People.
As one of the Algonquian-speaking peoples, they lived for thousands of years lived in large farming communities around the Great Lakes. When the first horses roamed into the northern Plains, the Atsina – like their close relations, the Arapaho – became nomadic and migrated west to hunt buffalo for their livelihood. Like many Plains Indians in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Atsina depended on the bison for food, tools, building materials, and clothing, such as the robe the young woman in this painting wears.
The first European explorers heading across the North American continent, such as Lewis and Clark, recorded their meetings with the Atsina; the pioneer artist Karl Bodmer painted many of their portraits and watercolors of their villages. Following early contact, however, they suffered greatly from epidemics such as smallpox. As conflicts with white settlers and the army reached a high, the Atsina allied at times with the Blackfoot, and at other times with the Crow. They successfully avoided forced relocations that sent many of their neighbors to Oklahoma, and today most Atsina still live in their Montana homeland.