Tsimshian comprises fourteen Aboriginal nations in British Columbia.
Tsimshian (Tsim-she-yan, meaning "People of the Skeena") is a name that is often broadly applied to all northern BC Aboriginal groups speaking languages of the Tsimshian language family: The Tsimshian language can be grouped into four dialects; Northern Tsimshian found along the the lower Skeena River, NISHGA (or Nisga'a) along the Nass River, GITKSAN (or Gitzsan) from the upper Skeena River, and Southern or Coast Tsimshian from the Skeena River to the coast.
The latter, sometimes referred to as the Tsimshian Proper, included groups along the lower Skeena River from the Kitselas Canyon and Kitsumkalum (near Terrace) and the adjacent coast south to Milbanke Sound, including Port Simpson, Metlakatla (in the Prince Rupert area), Kitkatla, Hartley Bay and Kitasu. The 2006 census reported 1 755 people in Canada who spoke one of the three Tsimshian languages.
Social and Cultural Patterns
Missionary William Duncan reported there were 2300 Aboriginal people living in 140 homes near Fort Simpson in 1887. A group of 825 Tsimshians following missionary William Duncan moved to a site near Ketchikan, Alaska, where they founded the settlement of New Metlakatla. Archaeological excavations in the harbour at Prince Rupert have unearthed the remains of cedar plankhouse villages that date back 5000 years; thus, the Tsimshians claim one of the oldest continuous cultural heritages in the New World. Tsimshian groups are also generally held to be related historically to the Penutian peoples of Oregon and California.
Like their neighbours, the Tlingit of Alaska and the Haida of Haida Gwaii, the Tsimshian represent the Northwest Coast cultural area, characterized by TOTEM POLES and POTLATCH feasts at which wealth is distributed. Although Aboriginal culture patterns are being replaced, these people take pride in their heritage and many families still fulfil traditional obligations by hosting community ceremonial feasts to punctuate name-giving, marriage, divorce, adoption and funerals. Originally, descent was matrilineal or through the female line, and based on a clan system, properly referred to as a moiety and each Tsimshian still recognizes him/herself as belonging to one of four phratries (tribes or totems: Frog or Raven, Wolf, Eagle, and Killer whale or Fireweed). One belongs to the same phratry as one's mother and marries someone (historically, the preferred mate was a cousin) from a different phratry than one's own. Hereditary chiefly titles are still maintained by both men and women for ceremonial purposes.
Although few trap for a living these days, fishing remains an important subsistence activity.
In 1988, the Tsimshian Tribal Council was established to negotiate with the BC and federal governments on behalf of seven of the Tsimshian bands. The council responsibility expanded in 1994 when the remaining seven Tsimshian bands authorized the council to enter the BC treaty process on their behalf and negotiate a comprehensive treaty agreement. A framework for a comprehensive treaty agreement was established and an agreement was signed in 1997. In 2004 some of the original members established a new negotiating council to represent members in the BC Treaty Process.
Since 2004 the Tsimshian First Nations Treaty Society has represented the Gitga'at Nation, Kitasoo/Xai'xais Nation, Kitselas Indian Band, Kitsumkalum Band, and the Metlakatla Band.
Author J.V. POWELL
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge
The website for the Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge, which features Canada's largest essay writing competition for Aboriginal youth (ages 14-29) and a companion program for those who prefer to work through painting, drawing and photography. See their guidelines, teacher resources, profiles of winners, and more. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
From Time Immemorial: Tsimshian Prehistory
Learn how archeologists interpret the cultural significance of ancient Tsimshian artifacts uncovered in the North Coast Prehistory Project in British Columbia. From the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples
The website for the "Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples." Click on the links for feature articles about Canada's many multicultural communities, access to their extensive digital archives collection, learning modules, and much more. From "Multicultural Canada."
Languages of Canada
A comprehensive online database of languages currently in use in Canada. Also provides details about extinct languages. Check out the "language maps" for more information. Based on "Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition." From SIL International, a US website.
Love and Lonesome Songs of the Skeena River
An article about the role of traditional love songs created and sung by the Tsimshian people of British Columbia. From the "Canadian Journal for Traditional Music."
The Bill Reid Centre For Northwest Coast Art Studies
Part of the Department of First Nations Studies at Simon Fraser University, this centre is devoted to "the study of First Nations art of the Northwest Coast as the visual embodiment of a broad cultural development since the end of the last Ice Age." Click the links on the right side of the page to view an illustrated profile of the history and heritage of featured language groups and villages.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...