ETHNONYMS: Kitonaqa, Kootenay, Sanka, Tunaha

The Kutenai are an American Indian group living on the Kootenai Indian Reservation in Idaho, the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, and various reserves in British Columbia. In the nineteenth century the North West Company and Hudson's Bay Company established trading posts in the Kutenai territory. The Kutenai lived on peaceful terms with Whites during this time; their population, however, was gradually but greatly reduced by disease and alcohol-related problems. In 1895 the remainder of the tribe was removed to the reservations in Idaho and Montana. The Kutenai language is classified as a language isolate in the Algonkian-Wakashan language phylum.

On the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana the Kutenai reside with the Flathead tribe and operate under a tribal council of ten elected officials. Income is derived mainly from forestry. In Idaho the Kutenai operate under a five-member tribal council headed by a chief with life tenure. In the late eighteenth century the Kutenai numbered about two thousand and inhabited the region of the Kootenay and Columbia rivers and Arrow Lake in Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia. At that time they were divided into an upper division subsisting mainly as bison hunters and a lower division living mainly as fishers. The upper and lower divisions were further subdivided into eight bands each headed by a nonhereditary chief.

See also Flathead


Turney-High, Harry H. (1941). Ethnography of the Kutenai. American Anthropological Association, Memoir 56. Menasha, Wis.

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