The Kootenay Language

Kootenay is spoken in southeastern British Columbia, northwestern Montana, and northeastern Idaho. The Montana Kootenay live together with the Salishan speaking Flathead in what is now called the Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribes. This association between the Montana Kootenay and Flatheads apparently dates back before European contact.

Map showing the location of the Kutenai region within North America

Kootenay people in Canada use the term /ktunaxa/ in reference to all Kootenay people. The origin of this term is unknown. The Kootenay in Montana use the term /ksanka/ "standing arrow" for themselves and for other Kootenay people. The origin of the usual English name Kootenay, also spelled Kootenai (usual in the United States) and Kutenai is uncertain. It may be an anglicization of /ktunaxa/. Another possibility is that it is based on the Blackfoot name for the Kootenay /kutunáiua/. The Blackfoot name may itself be based on /ktunaxa/.

Kootani is an isolate, not known to be related to any other language. It has been proposed that Kootenay is related to the Salishan languages. The current opinion of the majority of specialists is that this hypothesis is promising but that the evidence is not yet convincing. If this relationship is real, it is distant. (See Morgan (1980) for discussion.)


Yinka Déné Language Institute © 2006