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Tsimshian Indians of Canada

Tsimshian. A native term meaning "people of Skeena River." Also called:
  Kilat, by the Masset Haida.
  Kilgat, by the Skidegate Haida.
  Kwe´tEla, Heiltsuk Kwakiutl name.
  Skeena Indians, an English translation of their own name.
  Ts'otsqE´n, Tlingit name.

Connections. The Tsimshian are the largest of the three divisions of the Chimmesyan linguistic stock, to which they have given their name.

Location. On the lower course of Skeena River and the neighboring parts of the Pacific Coast. (See also Alaska.)

Subdivisions and Villages

The following are at the same time tribal or band, and town groups:

Kilutsai, near Metlakatla.
Kinagingeeg, near Metlakatla.
Kinuhtoiah, near Metlakatla.
Kishpachlaots, at Metlakatla.
Kitlani, near Metlakatla.
Kitsalthlal, between Nass and Skeena Rivers.
Kitunto, near the mouth of Skeena River.
Kitwilgioks, near the mouth of Skeena River.
Kitwilksheba, near Metlakatla and the mouth of Skeena River.
Kitzeesh, near Metlakatla.

These were the Tsimshian proper, but in a more extended sense the name applies to the Kitzilas, who occupied two towns in succession--Old Kitzilas just above the canyon of Skeena River, and New Kitzilas just below, and Kitzimgaylum, on the north side of Skeena River below the canyon. In a still more extended sense it covered the Kitkahta, on Douglas Channel; Kitkatla, on Porcher Island; and the Kittizoo, on the south side of Swindle Island, northwest of Milbank Sound.

Modern towns are:

New Metlakatla, at Port Chester on Annette Island, Alaska.
Old Metlakatla, 15 miles south of Port Simpson.
Port Essington, at the mouth of Skeena River.
Port Simpson, between Old Metlakatla and the mouth of Nass River.

History. Traditional and other evidence indicates that the Tsimshian formerly lived inland and have pushed down to the Pacific in relatively late times, probably displacing the Tlingit. Spanish navigators reached the latitude of their coast in very early times but it is questionable whether any actually touched there. In the latter part of the eighteenth century English and American explorers and traders met them and this contact became more intimate as time went on. Later the Hudson's Bay Company's posts were established at Fort Simpson in 1831 and at Fort Essington in 1835, and still later their country was overrun by miners and prospectors, particularly during the great Klondike rush. In 1857 Rev. William Duncan established a mission of the Church of England at Metlakatla, but, on account of differences with his superiors over the conduct of this work, he removed to Annette Island, Alaska, in 1887 with the greater part of the Indians under his charge and obtained the grant of this island for his colony. A still closer contact between them and the outside world resulted from the establishment of the terminus of the Grand Trunk (now the Canadian National Railway) among them at Prince Rupert.

Population. Mooney ( 1928) estimated that in 1780 there were 5,500 Indians belonging to the Chimmesyan linguistic stock of which the Tsimshian were a part. In 1908 there were 1,840 Tsimshian, including 465 in Alaska.

Connection in which they have become noted. The Indians of this stock, including the Tsimshian, are noted for their beautiful carvings, equaled if at all only by those of the neighboring Haida. They and the Haida together occupy the very center of the remarkable cultural area of the north Pacific coast, and their social and ceremonial institutions have attracted particular attention. Their language occupies a unique position among the tongues of the northwest.

The Indian Tribes of North of America, by John Swanton, 1953

Canadian Indians


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