10 Things You Should Know About the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho

Jack McNeel

The Kootenai Tribe of Idaho is located in the northern tip of Idaho a few miles south of the Canadian line along the Kootenai River. The river has always been of extreme importance and fish from here were a mainstay of their diet. Kootenai Falls is still a sacred place.

Their oral history tells they were created by Quilxka Nupika, the Supreme Being, and were here to keep and guard the land forever, something they still strive to do.

The tribal shield reflects their history. The three moons represent a former chief and legendary leader: Chief Three Moons. Their non-treaty status is represented by an unsigned treaty and an empty arrow quiver. The Idaho map is wrapped in a red ribbon reflecting their ongoing relationship with the state. The seven feathers represent the seven bands.

ICTMN talked with tribal chairman Gary Aitken Jr. who discussed the following list of 10 things he felt others should know about the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho.

Seven bands – Aitken explained that seven bands made up the Ktunaxa (or Kootenai) Nation. “There are five bands in Canada, one in Montana and us here in Idaho. We’re all interconnected. There are slight differences but we all understand each other.” He spoke of slight cultural differences. “There are more elk on the Canadian plains but we lived on and used the river a lot. We fished and hunted more deer and ducks.”

(Jack McNeel)

Language – “The Ktunaxa language is an isolate, a very unique language. It’s one of seven isolates in the world.” Aitken explained. “All the bands once spoke that language and still do. There are regional differences, like slang, but we fully understand each other.” The tribe is currently developing a computer program to help teach the youngsters with the blueprint of a language program used by the neighboring Kalispel Tribe. “I didn’t grow up speaking our language,” Aitken said. “My dad understood it but didn’t speak it. What I learned I learned from curiosity asking my grandmother. My children in turn, we’re in a race. I believe they know more than me. It’s sad it dwindled so far down but at the same time it’s looking up.”

(Jack McNeel)


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