The word Kootenai itself came from the French, who called the people they met “water people,” so adept were they in their canoes on the Columbia River.
There were two main groups of the tribe, the Plains Kootenai, who were originally in the Alberta area of Canada, and the Plateau Kootenai who were confined primarily to the lakes, rivers, and mountains of the Columbia Plateau.
The two groups would eventually form into one when the various tribes, such as the Crow, Cheyenne, and Assiniboine were pushed west by the Europeans, causing the Plains Kootenai to move west over the Continental Divide.
The Plains Kootenai
By contrast, the Plateau Kootenai lived a more sedentary life that was fixed around fishing, localized hunting, and gathering roots. The buffalo didn’t live in their neck of the woods, and everything they needed was in the same general spot.
That all changed when the Indian tribes from the east began to arrive. The Gros Ventre and Blackfeet bullied them off of their lands on the eastern plains of Montana, and smallpox from white traders and settlers also played a large part in decimating their ranks.
The Bow and Arrow
There were many games associated with archery when the weapons were not used for hunting. One played commonly by various Montana tribes involved a grass horn. Three arrows would be stuck into the ground a few inches apart, and a group of boys would try to hit the middle arrow from afar. If no one hit the arrow, the closest arrow to the stick would be measured. The boy who came closest would be allowed to shoot at the grass horn as it was thrown into the air, and if he hit it, he would win all of the other boys’ arrows.
Other games involved throwing a moccasin into the air, or shooting at tufts of grass from a moving horse. All increased the Plains Indians’ proficiency with the bow and arrow, allowing them to become better hunters, and defenders of their territory.
Bryan, William L. Montana's Indians: Yesterday and Today. American World & Geographic Publishing: Helena, 1996. p 119.
Laubin, Reginald and Gladys. American Indian Archery. The University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, 1980. p 6-7.
Ruby, Robert H.; Brown, John A. A Guide to the Indian Tribes of the Pacific Northwest. The University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, 1986. p 99.