Koo·​te·​nai ˈkü-tə-ˌnā How to pronounce Kootenai (audio)
variants or Kutenai
plural Kootenai or Kootenais or Kutenai or Kutenais : a member of an Indigenous people of the Rocky Mountains in both the U.S. and Canada

Note: Modern-day members of this tribe live as part of the federally recognized Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation in Montana, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and the Ktunaxa Nation of southeastern British Columbia.

: the language of the Kootenai people

Word History


of uncertain origin

Note: Blackfoot kutunáiua (not phonemicized) "Kootenai" (also /kotonáwa/) has been suggested as the origin of the name, which may ultimately derive from ktunaxaɁ, a Kootenai self-designation used especially in Canada. The word ktunaxaɁ has no clear derivation. Attempts to trace it to verb stems meaning "to go out into the open" or "to eat lean meat" would require ad hoc sound changes and are most likely folk etymologies. For details see Lawrence Morgan, A Description of the Kutenai Language (University of California, Berkeley doctoral dissertation, 1991), pp. 1-2, and the Kootenai chapter in Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 12, Plateau (Smithsonian Institution, 1998).

First Known Use

1801, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of Kootenai was in 1801

Dictionary Entries Near Kootenai

Cite this Entry

“Kootenai.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Kootenai. Accessed 20 Apr. 2024.

Geographical Definition


geographical name

Koo·​te·​nai ˈkü-tə-ˌnā How to pronounce Kootenai (audio)
variants or in Canada Kootenay
river 407 miles (655 kilometers) long in southwestern Canada and northwestern U.S.; rises in British Columbia, flows south into Montana, west and north through Idaho, and back into British Columbia, where it goes through Kootenay Lake (65 miles, or 104 kilometers, long) into the Columbia River
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