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Tsimshian (tsĭmˈshēən), Native North Americans speaking a language probably falling within the Penutian linguistic stock (see Native American languages). They lived around the Skeena and Nass rivers, south along the coast of British Columbia, and north into Alaska. Tsimshian culture, like that of the Haida and the Tlingit, was typical of the Northwest Coast area (see under Natives, North American). They depended for subsistence largely on the codfish and halibut of the deep sea as well as the salmon and candlefish that come upstream in spring. They also hunted seals and sea lions and, in the interior, bears, mountain goats, and deer. The Tsimshian were subdivided into four matrilineal phratries. The Episcopalian missionary William Duncan established (1857) a mission at the Tsimshian village of Metlakahtta, 15 mi (24 km) S of Port Simpson, British Columbia. Duncan moved, however, in 1887 to Port Chester, or New Metlakahtta, on Annette Island, and most of the Tsimshian followed him. Today the Tsimshian live in British Columbia and Alaska, where they live mainly by fishing and forestry. In 1990 there were close to 10,000 Tsimshian in Canada and more than 2,000 in the United States. Chimmesyan is another spelling for Tsimshian.


See F. Boas, Tsimshian Mythology (1916, repr. 1970); T. Durlach, The Relationship Systems of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian (1928, repr. 1974).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an Indian tribe of northwestern British Columbia, Canada. Before the colonization of Canada the Tsimshian had reached the final stage of the clan tribal system. They retained a division into matrilineal clans, and there was a system of hereditary slavery traced through the paternal line. The society was beginning to stratify into classes, a division that found expression in the institution of the potlatch.

The Tsimshian, who lived in settlements, engaged primarily in fishing and in the hunting of marine and land animals. They were renowned for their wood and ivory carvings and were familiar with weaving and the cold working of copper. Their religion was based on totemism and shamanism, and there were secret religious societies. Today the Tsimshian, who number approximately 5,000 according to a 1970 estimate, are employed in the extraction industry, and many work in the cities.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.