Tsimshian (American Indians Ready Reference)
Archaeological evidence suggests a Tsimshian residency of some five thousand years in the area. There are three major divisions: Tsimshian proper (which have been separated into the Southern Coast and Tsimshian), Niska (Nishga), and Gitksan. Each speaks a different dialect. Tsimshian derives from emsyan (“inside the Skeena River”).
The Tsimshian subsisted on a variety of land and sea animals as well as plants that were gathered seasonally. Salmon was the most important food source. Eulachon, or candlefish, were particularly important for their oil or grease. The Tsimshian had a virtual monopoly on candlefish and the grease trade and became very wealthy as a result. The Tsimshian transported themselves between areas primarily in canoes.
The Tsimshian lived in fishing villages and camps in the spring and summer and in large houses made from red cedar in the winter. A chief's house might measure 50 by 30 feet. The chief and his family lived in several cubicles at the rear of the house. Other families of lesser status occupied the side walls. The houses were also used for dances during the winter ceremonial season.
The Tsimshian were divided into four phratries (tribal subdivisions, comprising several clans): Eagle, Wolf, Raven, and Killer Whale. Membership in a phratry was matrilineal, and marriage outside the phratry was prohibited. Each phratry controlled a defined territory. Social order and customs were maintained...
(The entire section is 447 words.)
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