The Tsimshian (Sm'algyax: Ts’msyan) IPA|/'sɪm.ʃi.æn/ are an indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Tsimshian translates to "Inside the Skeena River". [Campbell, Lyle (1997). "American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America". Oxford: Oxford University Press, pg. 396 n. 29] Their communities are in British Columbia and Alaska, around Terrace and Prince Rupert and the southernmost corner of Alaska on Annette Island. There are approximately 10,000 Tsimshian. Their culture is matrilineal with a societal structure based on a clan system. Early anthropologists and linguistics grouped Gitxsan and Nisga'a as "Tsimshian" because of linguistic affinities. Under this terminology they were referred to as "Coast Tsimshian", even though some communities were not coastal. The three peoples identify as separate nations.


In 1862 smallpox annihilated 80% of Tsimshian population over three years time. Further epidemics ravaged their communities for many years

In the 1880's, an Anglican missionary named William Duncan, with a group of Tsimshian requested settlement on Annette Island from the U.S. government. After being approved, this group founded New Metlakatla in Alaska. William Duncan later requested the community gain reservation status, which after approved, makes this the only Indian reservation. They maintained their reservation status and holdings exclusive of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and thus do not have an associated Native Corporation, although Tsimshian in Alaska may be shareholders of the Sealaska Corporation. The Annette Island reservation is the only location in Alaska allowed to maintain fish traps, which were otherwise banned when Alaska became a state in 1959. The traps are used to provide food for people living on the reservation.

In British Columbia, the governments of Canada started engaging in the British Columbia Treaty Process with First Nation bands in the province. Originally the Tsimshian First Nations pursued negotiations until late 2005 when the Tsimshian Tribal Council, the organization for representing each of the First Nations in treaty negotiations, dissolved amid legal and political turmoil.


Like all Northwest Coastal peoples, they thrived on the abundant sea life, especially salmon. It was a staple for many years and continues to be, despite large-scale commercial fishing. This abundant food source enabled the Tsimshian to live in permanent towns. They lived in large longhouses, made from cedar house posts and panels. These were very large, and usually housed an entire extended family. Cultural taboos centered around women and men eating improper foods during and after childbirth. Marriage was an extremely formal affair, involving several prolonged and sequential ceremonies.

Tsimshian religion centered around the "Lord of Heaven", who aided people in times of need by sending supernatural servants to earth to aid them. The Tsimshian believed that charity and purification of the body (either by cleanliness or fasting) was the route to the afterlife.

As with all Northwest Coast peoples, the Tsimshian engage in the potlatch, which they refer to as the "yaawk" or, in English, "feast." In Tsimshian culture today, the potlatch centres primarily around death, burial, and succession to name-titles.

The Tsimshian were a seafaring people, as were the Haida.

The Tsimshian live on in their art, their culture and their language, which is making a comeback. In a highly controversial agreement, the Nisga'a people recently gained autonomy from Canada by the government of British Columbia.

Like other coastal peoples, the Tsimshian fashioned most of their goods out of Western Redcedar, particularly from its bark, which could be fashioned into tools, clothing, roofing, armor, building materials and canoe skins. The Tsimshian had the misfortune of being the nearest and most favored victims of Haida depredations, though particular Tsimshian chiefs were close allies of certain Haida chiefs .

The Tsimshian were attacked by the Tlingit, Haida,the Athapaskan groups in the north, the Dunne-Za in the east, and the Kwakiutl groups in the south.


The Tsimshian nation (meaning the Coast Tsimshian) in British Columbia consists of fourteen bands:
*the Kitasoo (who live at Klemtu, B.C.)
*the Gitga'ata (Hartley Bay, B.C.)
*the Kitkatla (Kitkatla, B.C.)
*the Kitsumkalum (Kitsumkalum, B.C.)
*the Kitselas or Gits'ilaasü (Kitselas, B.C.)
*and nine tribes resident at Lax Kw'alaams (a.k.a. Port Simpson), B.C.:


The Tsimshian clans are the
* Laxsgiik (Eagle Clan),
* Gispwudwada (Killerwhale Clan)
* Ganhada (Raven Clan)
* Laxgibuu (Wolf Clan)

Treaty Process

The Tsimshian expressed an interest in preserving their villages and fishing sites on the Skeena and Nass Rivers as early as 1879, but were not able to begin negotiating a treaty until July 1983. [http://www.kitsumkalum.bc.ca/treaty.html Kitsumkalum and the Tsimshian Treaty Process] Kitsumkalum Treaty Office] A decade later, fourteen bands united to negotiate under the collective name of the Tsimshian Tribal Council. A framework agreement was signed in 1997, and the Tsimshian nation continue to negotiate with the BC Treaty Commission to reach an Agreement-in-Principle. [http://www.bctreaty.net/nations_3/tsimshian.html Tsimshian First Nations] - BC Treaty Commission]


The Tsimshian speak a Tsimshianic language, referred to by linguists as "Coast Tsimshian" and by Tsimshians as Sm'algyax, which means "real or true language." It has a northern and southern variety, of which the southern variety, often called Southern Tsimshian by linguists and spoken only at Klemtu, is very close to extinct. Approximately 30 speakers reside in Alaska, with another 300 in Canada. Tsimshianic languages are classified as a member of the only-theoretical a Penutian language group by that theory's proponents.

Prominent Tsimshians (and people of Tsimshian descent)

* Frederick Alexcee, artist
* William Beynon, hereditary chief of the Gitlaan and ethnographer
* Heber Clifton, hereditary chief of the Gitga'ata and community leader
* Alfred Dudoward, hereditary chief of the Gitando
* Bill Helin, artist
* Calvin Helin, businessman and author
* Paul Legaic, hereditary chief of the Gispaxlo'ots and trader
* Rev. Edward Marsden, clergyman
* Charles Menzies (anthropologist)
* Odille Morison, translator and art collector
* Rev. William Henry Pierce, missionary and memoirist
* Peter Simpson, Indian rights activist
* Henry W. Tate, oral historian
* Roy Henry Vickers, artist
* Arthur Wellington Clah, hereditary chief of the Gitlaan and diarist
* Walter Wright, hereditary chief of the Gits'ilaasü (Kitselas) and oral historian
* Shannon Thunderbird, singer, songwriter, storyteller, speaker, educator, recording artist
* Edward E. Bryant, artist

Anthropologists and other scholars who have worked with the Tsimshian

* Marius Barbeau
* William Beynon
* Franz Boas
* Philip Drucker
* Wilson Duff
* Viola Garfield
* Marjorie Halpin
* James McDonald

Missionaries who have worked among the Tsimshian

* Rev. William Henry Collison
* Rev. Thomas Crosby, Methodist
* William Duncan, Anglican/independent
* Rev. Edward Marsden, Presbyterian
* Bishop William Ridley, Anglican
* Robert Tomlinson, Anglican
* Joseph Burton
* Doc. David H. Pieplow


ee also

* Tsimshian mythology
* Gitksan language
* Nisga'a language
* Coast Tsimshian

External links

* [http://www.civilisations.ca/aborig/tsimsian/intro00e.html The Canadian Museum of Civilization - Tsimshian Prehistory]
* [http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/abed/images/map2.jpgmap of Northwest Coast First Nations] (including Tsimshian)


* Barbeau, Marius (1950) "Totem Poles." 2 vols. (Anthropology Series 30, National Museum of Canada Bulletin 119.) Ottawa: National Museum of Canada.
*Boas, Franz, "Tsimshian Mythology." in "Thirty-First Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1909-1910," pp. 29-1037. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1916.
*Garfield, Viola, "Tsimshian Clan and Society." "University of Washington Publications in Anthropology," vol. 7, no. 3 (1939), pp. 167-340.
*Garfield, Viola E., and Paul S. Wingert, "The Tsimshian Indians and Their Arts." University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1951, 1966.
*Halpin, Marjorie M., and Margaret Seguin, "Tsimshian Peoples: Southern Tsimshian, Coast Tsimshian, Nishga, and Gitksan." In: "Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7: Northwest Coast," edited by Wayne Suttles. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1990, pp. 267-284.
*McDonald, James A. (2003) People of the Robin: The Tsimshian of Kitsumkalum. CCI Press.
*Miller, Jay, "Tsimshian Culture: A Light through the Ages." Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.
*Miller, Jay, and Carol Eastman, eds., "The Tsimshian and Their Neighbors of the North Pacific Coast." Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1984.
*Neylan, Susan, "The Heavens Are Changing: Nineteenth-Century Protestant Missions and Tsimshian Christianity." Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2003.
*Seguin, Margaret, "Interpretive Contexts for Traditional and Current Coast Tsimshian Feasts." Ottawa: National Museums of Canada, 1985.
*Seguin, Marget, ed., "The Tsimshian: Images of the Past, Views for the Present." Vancouver: UBC Press, 1984.

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