Great Canadian LAKES 
History 
Ecosystem 
First Nations 
Recreation 
First Nations/Kootenay Lake
First Nations Page 1 2 3 4

The Sturgeon-Nose Canoe
Sharply-pointed at both bow and stern, and shaped like the head of the giant fish that formed part of the traditional diet of the Kootenay, the “sturgeon-nose” canoe, also known as the “Kootenay bark canoe,” is unique to the First Nations of the Kootenay region. The unusual design, which extends the keel line to end “rams,” is thought to keep out water in rapid rivers and large lakes. Sturgeon-nose canoes were traditionally made of the bark of birch, spruce, fir, white pine or balsam, with cedar root or wild cherry bark used for binding, and pitch from ponderosa pine or Douglas fir used for caulking. Kootenay canoes represented the western-most use of birch bark for watercraft. While the Kootenay design is unique to North American canoes, craft of similar design were discovered in the Amur River region of Siberia in the mid-1800’s. Like the Kootenay, the native people of the Amur River have a long tradition of fishing and hunting.

Plateau or Plains? The Cultural Fusion of the Kootenay Nation

With a cross-over of cultures that leaves category-loving anthropologists scratching their heads, the traditional lifestyle of the Kootenay includes features of both the Plateau and Plains First Nations. Although academics have tended to classify the Kootenay as a Plateau tribe, many of their cultural characteristics are more closely associated with the buffalo-hunting people of the Plains:

Upper Kootenay tribes crossed the mountains 3 times a year to hunt buffalo. The hunt was conducted on horseback in summer and fall and on snowshoes in mid-winter. Summer and fall hunts were a family affair, with large groups providing protection against the enemy Blackfoot. Buffalo meat was the main component of the Upper Kootenay diet; some was eaten fresh, but most was dried, pounded, and made into pemmican.

• Lower Kootenay tribes rarely hunted buffalo. Deer was their most important source of game, supplemented by ducks, geese, and smaller mammals. Like other tribes of the Plateau, the Lower Kootenay depended heavily on fish as a food source, catching salmon, trout and giant sturgeon with the use of hooks, weirs and traps. They also collected large quantities of edible plants, including bitterroot, camas bulbs, and berries. (See “Berries, Bitteroot and Bulbs: Traditional Edibles of the Kootenay“).

Like Plains tribes, the Upper Kootenay placed great emphasis on horse ownership. Horses were of less importance to Lower Kootenay tribes.

Kootenay housing more closely resembled Plains-style dwellings. Summer tipis and larger, elongated winter lodges were covered with hides or rush matting, and rarely featured the subterranean pit-house style of the Plateau.

Unlike Plateau tribes that were heavily influenced by the stratified social structure of the Pacific Coast First Nations, Kootenay society did not included rigidly-defined classes, castes or clans. Chiefs tended to be appointed on an ad hoc basis, for limited periods and according to specific duties and skills (e.g. deer hunting or salmon fishing.)

Spiritual and religions beliefs and ceremonies of the Kootenay were closely associated with those of the Plains. Vision quests, sweat lodges, shamans, and the Sun Dance were important features of Kootenay life. (Annual pilgrimages to the sacred Lake Pend d’Oreille in northern Idaho, legendary birthplace of the Kootenay, often drew bands from throughout Kootenay territory.) The oral tradition of the Kootenay combines stories, myths and legends from both Plains and Plateau cultures.

Clothing styles of the Kootenay more closely reflected Plains attire. Men wore deerskin shirts, breechcloths, leggings and moccasins, while women were clothed in long deerskin dresses, leggings and moccasins. The Kootenay rarely decorated their clothing, depending on the use of lavish fringing for ornamentation. Beadwork added in recent times reflects the influence of the Plains Cree.

First Nations Page 1 2 3 4