Nisga'a: Wikis


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Nisga'a Nation
Capital New Aiyansh (de facto)
Ethnic groups  Nisga'a
Government Wilp Si’ayuukhl Nisga’a
 -  President Sim’oogit Axhlaawaals - Nelson Leeson
 -  Secretary-Treasurer Sim’oogit K'amluugidis - Edmond Wright
 -  Chairperson Kevin McKay
 -  Chairperson, Council of Elders Sim'oogit Ksimxsaan - Oscar Mercer
 -  Chief Councillors Sim'oogit Hlabikskw - Nelson Clayton (Gingolx),
Sim'oogit Ni'isyuus - Willard Martin (Laxgalts'ap),
Peter Lambright (Gitwinksihlkw),
Sim'oogit Ksdiyaawak - George Williams Sr (New Aiyansh)
 -  Land-claim settlement May 11, 2000 
 -  Total 2,000 km2 
775 sq mi 
 -   estimate 6000 
Mask with open eyes, worn during winter halait ceremonies, 18th–early 19th century

The Nisga'a (pronounced [nisqa]), often formerly spelled Nishga and spelled in the Nisga'a language as Nisga'a, are an Indigenous nation or First Nation in Canada. They live in the Nass River valley of northwestern British Columbia. Their name comes from a combination of two Nisga’a words: Nisk-"top lip" and Tl’ak-"bottom lip". This term was used because K’alii-aksim Lisims (Nass River Valley) is so bountiful that many living creatures come to it to feed. The Nisga’a saw that every living creature used its Nisk and Tl'ak to eat, therefore... Nisga’a!


Nisga'a Culture



Nisga'a society is organized into four Tribes:

Ganada (Raven)
Gisk’aast (Killer Whale)
Laxgibuu (Wolf)
Laxsgiik (Eagle)

Each Tribe is further sub-divided into House Groups - extended families with same origins. Some houses are grouped together into Clans - grouping of Houses with same ancestors.

Laxgibuu Tribe (Wolf Tribe)
Gitwilnaak'il Clan (People Separated But Of One)
House of Duuk
House of K'eexkw
House of Gwingyoo


The Nisga'a harvested "beach food" all year round. This would include razor clams, mussels, oysters, limpits, scallops, abalone, fish, seaweed and other seafood that could be harvested from the shore. Eating too much beach food was believed to make you sick. However salmon, cod, char, pike, trout and other fresh water fish were harvested in the streams. Men went out in ocean going canoes to hunt seals, whales, fish and sea otters. The blubber was often traded with other tribes as well as fish oil. Moose, marmot, game birds and more were hunted in the forests. The meat was roasted or boiled. Fish and sea mammals flesh was eaten frozen, boiled or roasted. The heads of a type of cod which were half eaten by sharks were boiled into a soup which kept colds at bay. Dried fish, seal oil, fish oil, blubber and cedar were traded with inland tribes.


Houses of the Nisga'a were rectangular shaped and made of cedar planks. The roof was shaped like a normal houses roof and the doors faced the east. The doors were usually decorated with the family crest. Inside, there was a sunken floor which held the hearth and beds and boxes of possessions around the walls. Around 3 to 4 families lived one house. Masks and blankets decorated the walls.


Men wore nothing in the summer and it was normally the best time to hunt and fish. However women wore softened cedar bark skirts and went topless. During the colder season, men wore cedar bark skirts (shaped more like a loincloth), a cape of cedar and a basket hat outside in the rain but wore nothing inside the house. Women wore basket hat sand cedar blankets indoors and outdoors. During war, men wore red cedar armor, a cedar helmet and cedar loincloths. They wielded spears, clubs, harpoons, bows and slings. Wicker shields were common. Shell and bone necklaces and bracelets were worn by both sexes. Seal blubber was rubbed into hair and men kept their hair long or in a top knot.

Where they live

Approximately 2,500 live in the Nass Valley (within the 4 villages) and another 3,500 Nisga'a live elsewhere in Canada, and around the world (predominantly within the 3 urban societies).

Nisga'a Villages

The Nisga'a people number about 6,000. In British Columbia, the Nisga'a Nation is represented by four Villages:

Nisga'a Urban Societies

There are also Nisga'a people residing away from their "home communities" with a large concentration in three urban areas which are not in traditional Nisga'a territory:

Nisga'a Calendar/Life

The Nisga'a calendar revolves around harvesting of foods & goods used. The original year followed the various moons throughout the year.

K'aliiyee - To Walk North (January)
This time of year, the sun begins to go North (K'alii) again
Buxwlaks - To Blow Around (February)
Blow Around refers to the amount of wind during this time of year
Xsaak - To Eat Oolichans (March)
The oolichans return to the Nass River the end of February/beginning of March
This is the tradional time to celebrate the New Year, also known as Hoobiyee (variations of spelling include: Hobiyee, Hobiiyee, Hoobiiyee)
The oolichans are the first food harvested after the winter, which marks the beginning of the harvesting year.
Mmaal - To Use Canoes Again (April)
The ice begins to break on the river, allowing for canoes to be used again
Yansa'alt - Leaves Are Blooming (May)
The leaves begin to flourish once again
Miso'o - Sockeye Salmon (June)
Sockeye salmon are harvested
Xmaay - To Eat Berries (July)
various berries are harvested
Wii Hoon - Great Salmon (August)
Great amounts of salmon are harvested
Genuugwiikw - Trail of the Marmot (September)
Small game such as marmots are hunted
Xlaaxw - To Eat Trout (October)
Trout are the main staple for this month
Gwilatkw - To Blanket (November)
The earth is "Blanketed" with snow
Luut'aa - To Sit (December)
The sun is sitting in one spot


On August 4, 1998, a land-claim was settled between the Nisga'a, the government of British Columbia, and the Government of Canada. As part of the settlement in the Nass River valley, nearly 2,000 square kilometres of land was officially recognized as Nisga'a, and a 300,000 cubic decameter water reservation was also created. The Bear Glacier Provincial Park was also created as a result of this agreement. The land-claim's settlement was the first formal treaty signed by a First Nation in British Columbia since the Douglas Treaties in 1854.


The Tseax Cone situated in a valley above and east of the Tseax River was the source for an eruption during the 18th century that killed approximately 2,000 Nisga'a people from poisonous volcanic gases.

See also

Prominent Nisga'a


  • Barbeau, Marius (1950) Totem Poles. 2 vols. (Anthropology Series 30, National Museum of Canada Bulletin 119.) Ottawa: National Museum of Canada.
  • Boas, Franz, Tsimshian Texts (Nass River Dialect), 1902
  • [ Boas, Franz, Tsimshian Texts (New Series), [1912]
  • Boston, Thomas (ed.) (1996) From Time before Memory. New Aiyansh, B.C.: School District No. 92 (Nisga’a).
  • Bryant, Elvira C. (1996) Up Your Nass. Church of Religious Research.
  • Collison, W. H. (1915) In the Wake of the War Canoe: A Stirring Record of Forty Years' Successful Labour, Peril and Adventure amongst the Savage Indian Tribes of the Pacific Coast, and the Piratical Head-Hunting Haida of the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia. Toronto: Musson Book Company. Reprinted by Sono Nis Press, Victoria, B.C. (ed. by Charles Lillard), 1981.
  • Dean, Jonathan R. (1993) "The 1811 Nass River Incident: Images of First Conflict on the Intercultural Frontier." Canadian Journal of Native Studies, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 83–103.
  • "Fur Trader, A" (Peter Skene Ogden) (1933) Traits of American Indian Life and Character. San Francisco: Grabhorn Press. Reprinted, Dover Publications, 1995. (Ch. 4 is the earliest known description of a Nisga'a feast.)
  • McNeary, Stephen A. (1976) Where Fire Came Down: Social and Economic Life of the Niska. Ph.D. dissertation, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Penn.
  • Patterson, E. Palmer, II (1982) Mission on the Nass: The Evangelization of the Nishga (1860-1890). Waterloo, Ontario: Eulachon Press.
  • Raunet, Daniel (1996) Without Surrender, without Consent: A History of the Nisga’a Land Claims. Revised ed. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre.
  • Rose, Alex (2000) Spirit Dance at Meziadin: Chief Joseph Gosnell and the Nisga'a Treaty. Madeira Park, B.C.: Harbour Publishing.
  • Roth, Christopher F. (2002) "Without Treaty, without Conquest: Indigenous Sovereignty in Post-Delgamuukw British Columbia." Wicazo Sa Review, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 143–165.
  • Sapir, Edward (1915) "A Sketch of the Social Organization of the Nass River Indians." Anthropological Series, no. 7. Geological Survey, Museum Bulletin, no. 19. Ottawa: Government Printing Office. ([ Online version] at the Internet Archive)
  • Sterritt, Neil J., et al. (1998) Tribal Boundaries in the Nass Watershed. Vancouver: U.B.C. Press.

External links


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