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(tsĭm`shēən), Native North Americans speaking a language probably falling within the Penutian linguistic stock (see Native American languagesNative American languages,
languages of the native peoples of the Western Hemisphere and their descendants. A number of the Native American languages that were spoken at the time of the European arrival in the New World in the late 15th cent.
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). They lived around the SkeenaSkeena
, river, c.360 mi (580 km) long, rising in the Stikine Mts., W British Columbia, Canada, and flowing S and SW to the Pacific Ocean near Prince Rupert. It is navigable for c.100 mi (160 km) upstream. There are fish-processing plants near the mouth of the river.
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 and NassNass
, river, 236 mi (380 km) long, rising in the Coast Mts., W British Columbia, Canada, and flowing SW to Portland Inlet of the Pacific Ocean. It is navigable for 25 mi (40 km) and has valuable salmon fisheries.
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 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 AmericanNatives, North American,
peoples who occupied North America before the arrival of the Europeans in the 15th cent. They have long been known as Indians because of the belief prevalent at the time of Columbus that the Americas were the outer reaches of the Indies (i.e.
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). 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.
References in periodicals archive ?
Halpin and Margaret Anderson, "Tsimshian Peoples: Southern Tsimshian, Coast Tsimshian, Nishga, and Gitksan," in Handbook of North American Indians, vol.
(21.) Halpin and Anderson, "Tsimshian Peoples," 278.
The Heavens Are Changing: Nineteenth-Century Protestant Missions and Tsimshian Christianity is a significant contribution to the study of the Tsimshian people in British Columbia in relation to evangelical Protestant Christianisation.
Interviews with Tsimshian resource workers were conducted with people from the villages of Kitkatla, Lax Kw'alaams, Metlakatla, Kitsumkalum, and Gitga'at.
Europeans first appeared in Tsimshian territory to the Kitkatla near their village of Laxgibaaw, on the south end of Banks Island, in 1787.
The recent histories of the Tsimshian communities of Kitkatla, Lax Kw'alaams, Metlakatla, Kitsumkalum, and Gitga'at (Hartley Bay) reflect the effects of non-Aboriginal influence in the territories.
It is from these oral histories, when combined with the accounts of Hudson's Bay Company employees and other early sources, that it is possible to divine a sense of how Tsimshian peoples have participated in various aspects of forestry throughout the last 150 years.
(8) Their reliance was such that the activities of the fort were organized around the food gathering and processing cycle of the Tsimshian. The Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) station required firewood and building logs in steady supply.
For the first three decades Tsimshian people fit work for the HBC within their customary annual round of gathering, hunting, and fishing.
During the customary Tsimshian annual round, most community members would leave their winter villages to gather along the banks of the lower Nass River or to harvest and process oolichan from March to May.