Indigenous History

Indigenous peoples have cared for the lands of North America for thousands of years. Learn more about the history and cultures of the Ktunaxa (also called Kootenai), Salish, and Pend d’Oreille tribes that have stewarded western Montana’s resources for generations.

The Flathead Watershed is the traditional home of the Ktunaxa Nation, known in the U.S. as the Kootenai people. Historically, the Ktunaxa are characterized by two subgroups, the Upper Kootenai and Lower Kootenai. The Upper Kootenai were traditionally forest and mountain people who travelled to the prairies to hunt buffalo. They fished and gathered roots and berries, but concentrated on hunting—including caribou, deer, elk, mountain goat, mountain sheep, and buffalo hunts two or three times a year. The Lower Kootenai were experts at survival around water. They harvested fish (trout, salmon, sturgeon, suckers, and whitefish), waterfowl, and plants that grew in and near the water. The Lower Kootenai also constructed unique sturgeon-nosed canoes from birch, bitter cherry, cedar, Douglas-fir, maple, and white pine. Source: Flathead Watershed Sourcebook

At the time of European settlement and the establishment of Indian Reservations, the Flathead Indian Reservation, was designated as the home to three tribes—the Bitterroot Salish, Upper Pend d’Oreille, and the Kootenai. Today, they are known as the Confederated, Salish & Kootenai Tribes (CSKT). The territories of these three tribes covered all of western Montana and extended into parts of Idaho, British Columbia, and Wyoming. The Hellgate Treaty of 1855 established the Flathead Reservation, but over half a million acres passed out of tribal ownership during land allotment that began in 1904.

The subsistence patterns of the CSKT people developed over generations of observation, experimentation, and spiritual interaction with the natural world, created a body of knowledge about the environment closely tied to seasons, locations, and biology. This way of life was suffused with a rich oral history and a spiritual tradition in which people respected the animals, plants, water, and other elements of the natural environment. By learning from elders and teaching children, those tribal ways of life continue to this day. Source:

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