Nation consists of seven communities in southeast British
Columbia, North Idaho and Montana, who for 10,000 years
shared lands, culture and a language so unique it is not
linked to any other in the world. The Ktunaxa People lived
a nomadic lifestyle following vegetation, hunting and fishing
cycles throughout their territory. Their traditional economy
included production of high quality tobacco, buckskin, and
flint, which were exported to neighbouring tribes.
The Ktunaxa communities in BC are distinguished by the location they inhabited during the winter months and include: the Wood Land People (St. Mary’s), The Two Lakes People (Columbia Lake), People where the Rock is Standing (Lower Kootenay), and The People of Flying Head Place (Tobacco Plains). During the mid 1800’s a Shuswap Tribal family – the Kinbaskets, were allowed to settle on Ktunaxa lands on the upper Columbia Valley, (resulting in the Shuswap Reserve in 1887).
The Oblate Order founded the first mission near the site of the current mission in 1873. The building served initially as a school, residence, and later as a hospital. Financing the new mission buildings was, in part, provided by the discovery in 1893 of a rich ore body by Pierre, a Ktunaxa First Nations member. He brought a sample of rich galena ore to Father Coccola, head of the St. Eugene Mission, and the two staked claims above the town of Moyie. Father Coccola sold the claim for $12,000 and constructed the St. Eugene Church (prefabricated in Italy) in 1897, which graces the Mission area today. Within ten years the St. Eugene Mine produced more than $10 Million and gave the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company (later Cominco) its start. With the infusion of capital, the Mission became a large self-supporting complex, milling its own grain in the first flourmill in the region.
In 1910, the Canadian Government funded and constructed the present Mission school, presently a part of the hotel complex at St Eugene Mission Resort. Operated by the Oblates, this facility was the first comprehensive Indian “Industrial and Residential” school to be built in the Canadian West. At the time, it was the largest building in the BC Interior. The Mission instructed 5000 children from the Okanagan, Shuswap and Blackfoot Nations in addition to the area’s Ktunaxa Nation Council. The school was closed in 1970 when government policy changed to encourage public education for Indian children. In 1973, the BC Government leased the Mission with the intent of turning it into a facility for the mentally handicapped. The building was stripped of historic fixtures and artifacts, and after spending $750,000 on renovations, the project was abandoned. The following winter the pipes burst and the building suffered severe damage from internal flooding. For the next twenty years the building remained empty.
To our knowledge, the St. Eugene Mission is the only project in Canada where a First Nation decided to turn the icon of an often sad period of its history into a powerful economic engine by restoring an old Indian Residential School into an International Destination Resort for future generations to enjoy. The golf course opened in 2000 and was followed by the hotel and casino in 2003.
Today, the Ktunaxa Nation Council operates an interpretive centre within the Resort which displays artifacts and details of the history and mythology of their people. Admission to the center is free.