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.