Indigenous connections

Kootenay National Park

Parks Canada respectfully acknowledges that Kootenay National Park is located within the traditional lands of the Ktunaxa and Secwépemc peoples. We recognize their stewardship of the lands and waters in the area now known as Kootenay National Park since time immemorial. Parks Canada is committed to reconciliation and renewed relationships with Indigenous peoples, based on a recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership.

Before Kootenay National Park

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Ktunaxa and Secwépemc peoples used the area for hunting, fishing and gathering. The area along Ochre Creek is known as an important source of iron pigment utilized by Indigenous people for generations. The valleys of the Kootenay and Vermilion rivers have been used for many generations as important travel corridors between the Columbia Valley and the Bow Valley and adjacent plains east of the Canadian Rockies.

Park creation and the removal of Indigenous peoples

"In the beginning, parks were established without much consultation with the public, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. However, we have learned from the past. Today, we cannot imagine creating a new park, site or marine conservation area without the support and collaboration of the public, especially Aboriginal peoples..."

Kootenay National Park was established on April 21, 1920. Like many of Canada’s earliest national parks, Kootenay National Park was established in a time when legislation and management of these parks did not consider Indigenous traditional knowledge or recognize long-standing cultural and spiritual values and use of the landscape. Traditional activities of Indigenous peoples were viewed as inconsistent with the management of the early national parks. 

Consequently, many Indigenous peoples were excluded from the park, and lost physical ties and cultural connections with places of importance within their traditional territories. This was not just a geographical disconnection but a total disconnection from an important part of their identity. 

Land is fundamental to practicing culture, spirituality, ways of life and sense of self. For many Indigenous peoples their relationship with the land is integral because everything comes from the land: food, clothes, shelter, water and medicines, as well as stories, history, ceremonies and law.

Working together

Parks Canada recognizes the rich history of Indigenous peoples on the landscape and is committed to strengthening relationships and deepening Indigenous involvement in the mountain parks. Today, Parks Canada is working to build relationships with Indigenous groups that have ancestral connections to Kootenay National Park, to discuss areas of interest for collaboration and opportunities to further Indigenous involvement in park management and operations. 

Kootenay National Park’s Indigenous Relations team works with diverse Indigenous communities and groups with historical connections to the park, to strengthen connections with traditionally used lands and waters in Kootenay National Park, and to ensure the voices, histories and culture of Indigenous peoples are presented and commemorated within the park. 

Indigenous engagement occurs in Kootenay National Park primarily through collaboration with the Ktunaxa Nation Council, the Secwépemc Nation Columbia Campfire Collaborative and the Columbia Valley Métis Association, representing 10 different Indigenous communities in British Columbia. These groups work with Parks Canada to address common interests and work on achieving common goals that support reconciliation and reconnection to the land. 

Indigenous partners

Ktunaxa Nation

The Ktunaxa (k-too-nah-ha), also known as Kootenay, have occupied the lands around the Kootenay and Columbia rivers and Arrow Lakes for more than 10,000 years. Ktunaxa traditional territory encompasses 70,000 km2 of south-eastern British Columbia, and includes parts of Alberta, Montana, Idaho and Washington. 

For thousands of years, and long before settlers arrived, the Ktunaxa harvested flora and fauna in the area that is now managed as Kootenay National Park. The park lies within Kyawa¢ ʔamakʔis (Land of the Grouse).

Ktunaxa stories teach their generations of seasonal migrations that occurred across the Rocky Mountains and on the Great Plains; of war and trade interactions with other Nations; of place names and landmarks; and of lessons and values. The Ktunaxa language is a language isolate, meaning that it is one of a kind and unrelated to any other language in the world. 

To learn more about the Ktunaxa Nation, visit:

Secwépemc Nation

The Secwépemc (shuh-whep-em) people have used the areas now encompassed by Kootenay, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Banff and Jasper national parks since time immemorial; long before settlers arrived. 

Many of today’s roads and trails in the park are based on Secwépemc travel routes, used by Indigenous peoples for generations as connections to trade partners and areas for food and medicinal plant gathering. Indigenous guides created horse trails that evolved into major highways such as the Highway 93 South in Kootenay National Park. Today, Kootenay National Park continues to be an important area of oral history and Secwépemc cultural practice. 

Parks Canada and the Secwépemc Nation continue to foster a better working relationship that informs the management of natural resources and enhances the visitor experience for those exploring traditional lands. 

To learn more about the Secwépemc Nation, visit:

Columbia Valley Métis Association

Kootenay National Park is an important place for British Columbia Métis based on a history of trade relationships and expeditions. In 1807, when Kootenae House was established as the first trading post in the region, a meeting place between cultures was born. Indigenous peoples traded skills, furs, salmon and horses for European tools and cooking implements. Legendary explorer David Thompson and his wife Charlotte Small, a Métis woman, used the trading post as a home base. 

The local knowledge of Métis was central to the success of expeditions. For instance, in 1841 Sir George Simpson of the Hudson’s Bay Company hired a Métis guide for the Rockies leg of his trip, further assisted by Métis interpreter Edouard Berland. That same year, Red River Métis James Sinclair led a large group of families through the region. 

The legacy of Métis influence is marked by place names in Kootenay National Park: Mount Berland, Sinclair Pass, Sinclair Creek and Mount Sinclair. 

To learn more about the Columbia Valley Métis Association, visit

Indigenous perspectives on Kootenay National Park

As part of the Kootenay National Park Centennial in 2020, Parks Canada worked collaboratively with Shuswap Band and Ktunaxa Nation Council respectively to create the following two videos. They reflect on the impact of the park’s establishment on each group’s traditional activities.

Shuswap Band Elders on parks, protection and needing to be heard 

Shuswap Band Elders Laverna and Louie Stevens share their thoughts on the land and waters that are now part of Kootenay National Park. They highlight the profound need for protection while still allowing for traditional activities, like harvesting, that respect and don't damage the land. Secwepemctsin words highlight culturally important plants, animals and landscape features.

Our land, our story, our words – Ktunaxa Nation

Traditional Knowledge and Language Coordinator Lillian Rose highlights Ktunaxa connections to the land and waters of Kootenay National Park. She reflects on how park establishment has impacted their freedom to know and be intimate with the land.

Access and cultural use

Park Access

Indigenous people are always welcome in Kootenay National Park. Parks Canada is committed to maintaining a system of national heritage places that respects traditional use and recognizes the role of Indigenous people in stewardship of these special places. We are committed to facilitating access for Indigenous peoples for traditional, ceremonial, or cultural activities, with Parks Canada staff who are well informed, respectful and culturally competent.

To facilitate access, day passes to Kootenay National Park are available to Indigenous people upon request at the Radium Entrance Gate, visitor centres and mobile gates located within. Fees for campgrounds, hot springs, and other services continue to apply. 

Should an Indigenous group have a long-standing connection to Kootenay National Park, to make future access to Kootenay National Park easier, we encourage the group’s leadership to contact us to request Nation-specific Indigenous Access Passes. With Nation-specific Indigenous Access Passes, there is no expiry date, and you will no longer have to stop at the gate. For more information, please contact the Kootenay National Park Indigenous Relations Manager, at

Harvesting and Cultural Use

Cultural Use Agreements are available for members of Indigenous groups with long-standing connection to Kootenay National Park. If you are interested in learning more, please contact the Kootenay National Park Indigenous Relations Manager, at

Ktunaxa Exhibit in Radium Hot Springs Visitor Reception Centre

The Radium Hot Springs Visitor Information Centre is home to interpretive displays about Ktunaxa culture and history. Every aspect of this exhibit has been conceptualized and designed in close collaboration with Ktunaxa Nation communities. All of the displays are trilingual (Ktunaxa, English and French) and tell the Ktunaxa creation story. The exhibit shares Indigenous knowledge and practices such as the historical lighting of low intensity surface fire to maintain open forests and grasslands in the upper Columbia Valley.
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