Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Kutenai live in the vicinity of the Kootenay River in southeastern British Columbia, Canada, and northern Idaho and northwestern Montana, United States. Traditionally, they were organized into bilinear kin-based bands relying on foraging and fishing. Leadership was based on skill, wealth, generosity, and perceived spirituality. Their religious practices and beliefs included sweat lodge ceremonies, shamanism, reincarnation, and vision quests.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


North America --Plains and Plateau



United States

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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication, and title where necessary.

Direct ethnographic observations of the Kutenai of the contiguous Plateau region of northern Idaho, northwestern Montana and southeastern British Colombia can be sorted into three periods: around the turn of the twentieth century (Chamberlain 1893; Sapir 1918; Boas 1919), the late 1930s to mid-century (Turney-High 1941; Schaeffer 1966), and the 1970s and 1980s (Brunton 1998, 2002). The later accounts, by Shaeffer and Brunton, make extensive use of historical and secondary sources. Historical studies, mostly covering the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, include Schaeffer (1965, 1971, 1982), Tro (1967), and Malouf (1952). A few documents focus on particular subgroups: the extinct “Plains Kutenai” (Shaeffer 1982); the Dayton-Elmo (Libby-Jennings) Band (Brunton 2002); and the Dayton-Elmo Band along with the historically related Tobacco Plains Kutenai (Malouf 1952).

Brunton wrote a detailed encyclopedia entry (1998), and a separate article on divination and healing (2002). The major ethnography and principal authority on the Kutenai is by Turney-High (1941). An earlier monograph and primary source on Kutenai culture and society in general is by Chamberlain (1893). Malouf (1952) provides a native history preserved by a Kutenai informant. Sapir (1918) wrote on kinship terms, on which Boas (1919) provided commentary. Schaeffer writes on a variety of topics: Kutenai bear lore ceremonies (1966), missionary encounters and religious syncretism (1971), the berdache (1965), and Kutenai relations with Euro-Americans and surrounding tribes (1982). A short piece on material culture, including archaeological remains, is provided by Tro (1967).

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Ian Skoggard

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