The communities of the Ktunaxa Nation and special guests gathered at St. Eugene Mission Resort on Sunday, June 24, 2018, for an event celebrating the Nation’s ownership of St. Eugene, and its transformation from a residential school into the deluxe resort it is today. Barry Coulter file photo

Ktunaxa shares Creation Story, looks ahead, to mark Indigenous Peoples Day

For the Townsman

Kathryn Teneese, Ktunaxa Nation Chair, said she’s excited about what the future holds for all people within ʔamakʔis Ktunaxa, (Ktunaxa traditional territory), particularly as the Ktunaxa Nation moves towards self-governance in the spirit of collaboration and innovation.

“We’re continuing to strengthen our relationships with everyone in ʔamakʔis Ktunaxa,” Teneese said. “We all have something to contribute toward making our world a better place for ourselves and our neighbours, today and into the future.”

In 2016, Canada adopted The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in its framework for reconciliation at all levels and across all sectors of Canadian society.

The Declaration recognizes Indigenous peoples’ basic human rights, as well as rights to self-determination, language, equality and land, among others.

Teneese said reconciliation is also a process of healing of relationships, which involves learning and education.

“This is a good time to share some of our history, our language and our culture with neighbors and residents of ʔamakʔis Ktunaxa,” she said. “We’ve been asked by some of our elders to share our Creation Story as part of our ongoing dedication to learning and education.”

The Creation Story, summarized below in an extremely brief form, is adapted from stories that have been shared for countless generations.

“Stories are a key element of Ktunaxa self-awareness, teaching us who we are and where we come from,” Teneese said. The original written form of the Creation Story was pieced together by a Ktunaxa Elder, Wilfred Jacobs, from oral history research he had done in the 1980s.

“I hope people take the time to learn more about the Ktunaxa during National Indigenous Peoples Day,” Teneese said. “And I hope June 21 is the beginning of a safe, healthy and happy summer for everyone.”

Ktunaxa Creation Story

The Ktunaxa people have always been here. Before the Ktunaxa, Spirit Animals occupied the country. The Ktunaxa Creation Story speaks of the giant, Naⱡmuqȼin, and a prophecy from the Creator that would ultimately create all the Human Beings in the world. At that time, there was some disturbance caused by a water monster known as Yawuʔnik̓, who killed many creatures.

A war party was formed to destroy Yawuʔnik̓. He was pursued amongst the Kootenay and Columbia river systems which were connected at that time near Canal Flats in the Rocky Mountain Trench. Yawuʔnik̓ was eventually killed and butchered, his meat was distributed among the animals so everyone was fed. His organs became the various races of people and were scattered throughout the world.

These events placed the Ktunaxa people in these ancestral homelands as stewards of the land.

The lakes and rivers are a testament of this feat, as are Yawuʔnik̓’s ribs, also known as the Hoodoos, seen throughout the region.

When the prophecy was fulfilled, Naⱡmuqȼin, in all his excitement, rose to his feet, standing upright, hitting his head on the ceiling of the sky and knocking himself dead. His feet lay northward in a place we call Ya·kⱡiki, in the Yellowhead Pass vicinity. His head went south, and rests near Yellowstone Park in the State of Montana, and his body is now known as the Rocky Mountains.

For a more detailed written rendition of the Ktunaxa Creation Story, please visit

Unique Language

Ktunaxa is a language isolate, meaning that it’s one-of-a-kind and unrelated to any other language in the world. The Ktunaxa alphabet has 28 characters, and looks like this:

a, a·, ȼ, ȼ̓, h, i, i·, k, k̓, l, ⱡ, m, m̓, n, n̓, p, p̓, q, q̓, s, t, t̓, u, u·, w, x, y, ʔ ·

Many of the letters resemble English letters but do not make the same sounds.

As well, Ktunaxa does not translate literally to English.

Historical impacts since contact have resulted in the language having to be saved from the brink of extinction.

Now, the number of fluent speakers is increasing, thanks to the efforts being made to preserve and revitalize it. Ktunaxa Language Keepers, many of whom are now elders, continue to pass along their knowledge to the current generations. Ktunaxa is taught in some schools and via collage programs, and is also featured in a free app, “Ktunaxa Grammar,” and online at

Historical Overview

The Ktunaxa (pronounced ‘k-too-nah-ha’), also known as Kootenay, have occupied the lands adjacent to the Kootenay and Columbia rivers and the Arrow Lakes of British Columbia, Canada for more than 10,000 years.

Ktunaxa traditional territory, which includes some areas that overlap with other Nations’ traditional territories, covers approximately 70,000 square kilometres within the Kootenay region of southeastern B.C., and also includes parts of Alberta, Montana, Idaho, and Washington.

The lands have provided the Ktunaxa with food, medicine and material for shelter and clothing since time immemorial. Cultural stories teach of generations of seasonal migrations that occurred throughout the area, across the Rocky Mountains and on the Great Plains of both Canada and the United States, to follow vegetation and hunting cycles, including the bison and salmon populations which have since been killed off by non-Indigenous development.

European settlement in the late 1800s, followed by the establishment of The Indian Act, led to the creation of the present-day Indian Bands and Reserves.

There are seven Ktunaxa bands in the traditional territory; five in B.C., and two in the United States.

ʔakisq̓nuk [Columbia Lake Band] – Windermere, B.C.

ʔakink̓umǂasnuqǂiʔit [Tobacco Plains Band] – Grasmere, B.C.

ʔaq̓am [St. Mary’s Band] – Cranbrook, B.C.

Yaqan Nuʔkiy [Lower Kootenay Band] – Creston, B.C.

Kyaknuqⱡiʔit [Shuswap Band] – Invermere, B.C.

ʔaq̓anqmi [Kootenai Tribe of Idaho] – Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho

K̓upawiȼq̓nuk [Ksanka Band – Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes] Elmo, Montana

Going Forward

The Ktunaxa Nation continues to be a strong and thriving community. Today there are more than 1,500 citizens (ʔaqⱡsmaknik̓).

The Ktunaxa Nation Council government building is located in Cranbrook, B.C. As the central government for four of the reserve communities (each of which has its own government structure and community identity), the council is actively working towards Nation Rebuilding and self-government, and operates within a framework of “Five Pillars.” These pillars, or sectors, are Social, Traditional Knowledge & Language, Economic Investment, Education & Employment, and Land & Resources.

The Ktunaxa Nation Council Vision, for now and the future, is “Strong, healthy citizens and communities, speaking our languages and celebrating who we are and our history in our ancestral homelands, working together, managing our lands and resources, within a self-sufficient, self-governing Nation.”

Please visit to learn more.

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