Who are the Ktunaxa?

Ktunaxa is our traditional name for Kootenay (also spelled Kootenai, Kootney, Kutenai, and Kootni).

The Ktunaxa are characterized by two distinctive groups, the Upper and Lower Ktunaxa.

Divided by the 49th parallel, our nation is small and unique having seven member Bands of which five are in Canada and two in the USA.  The five Canadian Bands are all in  British Columbia – Akiskinuk (Columbia Lake) near Windermere, Lower Kootenay near Creston, A’qam (St. Mary’s) near Cranbrook, Shuswap near Invermere, Tobacco Plains near Grasmere (Roosville Border) crossing.

Our traditional territory is the entire lands of the Kootenay (east and west Kootenay) in southeast BC and extends into the USA.  The USA Bands are called tribes and are the Confederated Salish Kooteni near Elmo, Montana, and Kootenay Tribe of Idaho at Bonner’s Ferry.

Although it is the five Canadian Bands that work together primarily through the Ktunaxa Nation Council and the KtunaxaTreaty Society, we do communicate regularly with our two American tribes who are governed by USA legislation.

“We know what our lands are… where we have a name for a place, that is our lands.  Where we do not, it is not ours.”

Our people have always resided in the lands we call our traditional territory.  This is supported by archaeological evidence of more than 10,000 years and in some areas of 14,000 years.  We were a nomadic people who hunted and followed our food, lived in teepees year round, and hunted buffalo in the area of what is known today as Head-Smashed-in-Buffalo-Jump.


The standard dwelling of the Upper Kootenai was a tipi covered with skins. The hide was commonly from bison and elk sewn together by sinew. Later through trade, canvas was used to cover tipis. While movies often show tipis painted, the Ktunaxa were not known to paint their tipis.

In the summer, the Ktunaxa built tulé tipis. These were covered with woven reed mats making them cooler. This tipi style is considered by some to be the standard summer dwelling of the Lower Kootenai.

The Upper and Lower Kootenai were also known to construct a long house made of mats. The site was prepared by digging away at least a foot in depth. This dwelling was the commonly used by the Lower Kootenai in the winter.

Our Language

The Ktunenian language is unique.  It is one of the 11-14 Indigenous languages in Canada, and can not be associated with any other language, neighbour or otherwise.  Historically an oral language, the Ktunaxa have created a written form. Through the efforts of the Ktunaxa Bands and our School System, Ktunaxa children and others attending Band and public schools in the East Kootenay region can become Ktunaxa language students and receive credits in the public high schools.

Our Culture

It is top priority of our Bands and Nation to ensure the survival of our language and culture, despite the fact that so many of our Elders have passed on and that few of the one’s that are still alive are highly knowledgeable of our culture and history… and so is the legacy of the Indian residential school.

Of particular interest to some is the Ktunaxa (Kootenay) canoe. The design is found in one other place in the world, South America.  I urge you to find out more.

The Ktunaxa Today

Today in 2001 there are approximately 1,200 registered members of the Ktunaxa Nation; there are many others who are not registered in the Canadian government Indian registry and also does not include our people who are members of the Ktunaxa USA tribes.  Anywhere from 40-55% of our population are under the age of 25 years.

In 1993, we became party to the Modern Day Treaty Making Process (see BC Treaty Commission).  Our Bands are actively building their economy through business initiatives mainly in the tourism industry and housing developments.  Some of the businesses our Bands own are – golf courses, campgrounds, a guide outfitting territory, housing developments, greenhouse (new business), water & sewage, and the Tobacco Plains Duty Free (at the Roosville Border Crossing).  The two Bands (tribes) in the USA are also very active in development including ownership of the Resort/Casino at Bonner’s Ferry.

Ktunaxa Words

(click on the words below to hear their pronunciation)
Kisuk kiyukyitgreeting and farewell
Taxasthat’s all, the end
Nup´ku – February – when bear cubs are born
A´qamflat land
A´qamnikpeople of the flat land
Ká´sufather (woman speaking)
Ka´pa·brother’s daughter, father’s brother reciprocal (man or woman speaking)
Kapa’pagrandparent (grandson speaking)
Ti´tkatmale child

Links to the Ktunaxa

Ktunaxa Nation Council
St. Eugene Mission Resort
BC Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs – Ktunaxa Treaty

Written by Beverley O’Neil