From Academic Kids

The Tsimshian, translated as "People Inside the Skeena River," are a Native American and First Nation people who live around Terrace, Prince Rupert, and Kitimat, on the north coast of British Columbia and the southernmost corner of Alaska on Annette Island. Currently there are about 10,000 Tsimshians, of which about 1,300 live in Alaska.

Canadian Tsimshian live along the Skeena and Nass rivers, as well as the many inlets and islands on the coast. The Tsimshian obtained food through fishing (halibut and salmon) and hunting (seals, sea lions and sea otters).

The Tsimshian speak their own language, referred to by the same name as the tribe itself. There are four main dialects of Tsimshian:

  • Northern Tsimshian, spoken along the lower Skeena River and north to Alaska
  • Southern Tsimshian, spoken south of the Skeena River
  • Gitksan, spoken along the upper Skeena River
  • Nisga'a, spoken along the Nass River

The Tlingit claim that their art of weaving Chilkat blankets is derived from Tsimshian sources, although this has not been historically corroborated. The Tlingit also trace a number of other arts to Tsimshian sources. Intermarriage, name exchange, trade, and slaving were very common between the Tlingit, the Tsimshian, and the Haida.

Alaskan Tsimshian

The Tsimshian in Alaska were refugees from religious persecution in Canada during the 1890s. Led by the missionary William Duncan, a group of Tsimshian requested settlement on Annette Island from the U.S. government. There Duncan and about 50 Tsimshian followers established the village of Metlakatla, adopting the Anglican faith and European customs. The island was founded as a reservation for the Tsimshian people and is one of the few Indian reservations in Alaska.

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.

The Tsimshian are in negotiations with Canada and British Columbia for a treaty settlement.

See Also

The Tsimshian are merely the most numerous single tribe of this nation of people, who also include the Gitxsan and Nisga tribes. When referencing the Tsimshian make a note that all three of these tribes are being referred to collectively.

A people of North America's northwest coast, inhabiting the southern Alaskan panhandle and the north coast 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. The Tsimshian and Tlingit shared a common way of life, and while this allowed for a great deal of trade, it also led to the two peoples ferociously battling for the best lands, the best fishing grounds, for slaves and plunder, or revenge for last time.

Like all North Coast peoples, the Tsimshian were fearsome warriors with a deeply heirarchical society. Succession was matrilinear, and one's place in society was determined by their clan. The Tsimshian clans are the Eagle Clan, Orca Clan, Frog Clan and Wolf Clan, with the other clans as branch clans. Marriage in Tsimshian society must take place in an allied clan. The lord of a village was the head of the strongest clan, with the less powerful clan heads forming his council of the nobility.

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

Tsimshian thrived on salmon, which were especially plentiful prior to modern large-scale commercial fishing. This abundant food source enabled the Tsimshian to live in permanent towns. Tsimshian longhouses were very large, and usually housed an entire clan. 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 north coastal peoples, the Tsimshian engaged in the Potlatch.

The end of the Tsimshian as a force to be reckoned with in the north came in 1860, when smallpox annihilated 80% of the entire Tsimshian population in only three years. Further epidemics would ravage the coast for many years, and a century of poverty and hopelessness reduced these numbers even further. About 10,000 Tsimshian are alive today.

The Tsimshian live on in their art, their culture and their language, which is making a comeback. In a highly contraversial agreement, the Nisga'a people recently gained autonomy from Canada by the government of British Columbia. It appears the history of the Tsimshian is not over quite yet, and a new chapter is unfurling.de:Tsimshian


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