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Nisga'a
Bandera Nis'ga Nation.png
Nisga'a Lisims Government Building - dedication 01.jpg
Nisga'a community members and officials at the dedication of their new government building in 2000.
Total population
5,495 (2016 census)
Regions with significant populations
Canada (British Columbia)
Languages
English • Nisga'a

The Nisga’a often formerly spelled Nishga and spelled in the Nisga’a language as Nisg̱a’a (pronounced), are an Indigenous people of Canada in British Columbia. They reside in the Nass River valley of northwestern British Columbia. The name is a reduced form of which is a loan word from Tongass Tlingit, where it means "people of the Nass River".

The official languages of Nisg̱a’a are the Nisg̱a’a language and English.

Nisga’a culture

Society

Nisga’a society is organized into four tribes:

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. Example:

  • Nisgaa mask Louvre MH 81-22-1
    Mask with open eyes, worn during winter halait ceremonies, 18th–early 19th century
    Lax̱gibuu Tribe (Wolf Tribe)
    • Gitwilnaak’il Clan (People Separated but of One)
      • House of Duuḵ
      • House of K’eex̱kw
      • House of Gwingyoo

Traditional cuisine

The Nisga’a traditionally harvest "beach food" all year round. This might include razor clams, mussels, oysters, limpets, scallops, abalone, fish, seaweed and other seafood that can be harvested from the shore. They also harvest salmon, cod, char, pike, trout and other fresh water fish from the streams, and hunt seals, fish and sea lion. Oolichan grease is sometimes traded with other tribes, though nowadays this is more usually in a ceremonial context. They hunt mountain goat, marmot, game birds and more in the forests. The family works together to cook and process the meat and fish, roasting or boiling the former. They eat fish and sea mammals in frozen, boiled, dried or roasted form. The heads of a type of cod, often gathered half eaten by sharks, are boiled into a soup that helped prevent colds. The Nisga′a also trade dried fish, seal oil, fish oil, blubber and cedar.

Traditional houses

The traditional houses of the Nisga’a are shaped as large rectangles, made of cedar planks with cedar shake roofs, and oriented with the doors facing the water. The doors are usually decorated with the family crest. Inside, the floor is dug down to hold the hearth and conserve temperature. Beds and boxes of possessions are placed around the walls. Prior to the mid twentieth century, around three to four extended families might live in one house: this is nowadays an uncommon practice. Masks and blankets might decorate the walls.

Traditional clothing

Prior to European colonisation, men wore nothing in the summer, normally the best time to hunt and fish. Women wore skirts made of softened cedar bark. During the colder season, men wore cedar bark skirts (shaped more like a loincloth), a cape of cedar bark, and a basket hat outside in the rain, but wore nothing inside the house. Women wore a basket hat and cedar blankets indoors and outdoors. Both sexes made and wore shell and bone necklaces. They rubbed seal blubber into their hair, and men kept their hair long or in a top knot. During warfare, men wore red cedar armour, a cedar helmet, and cedar loincloths. They wielded spears, clubs, harpoons, bows and slings. Wicker shields were common.

Geography

Approximately 2,000 live in the Fudhu Valley. Another 5,000 Nisga’a live elsewhere in Canada, predominantly within the three urban societies noted in the section below.

Nisga’a villages

The Nisga’a people number about 7,000. In British Columbia, the Nisga’a Nation is represented by four villages:

  • Gitlax̱t'aamiks (New Aiyansh) - nearly 800
  • Gitwinksihlkw (Canyon City) - approximately 200
  • Lax̱g̱alts’ap (Greenville) - more than 500
  • Ging̱olx (Kincolith) - almost 400

Nisga’a urban societies

Many Nisga’a people have moved to cities for their opportunities. Concentrations are found in three urban areas outside traditional Nisga’a territory:

Nisga’a calendar/life

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

  • Hobiyee: Like a Spoon (February/March). This is the traditional time to celebrate the new year, also known as Hoobiyee. (Variations of spelling include: Hoobiyee, Hobiiyee, Hoobiiyee)
  • X̱saak: To Eat Oolichans (March). The oolichans return to the Nass River the end of February/beginning of March. 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
  • X̱maay: 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
  • X̱laaxw: 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
  • Ḵ’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

Treaty

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 km2 (770 sq mi) of land was officially recognized as Nisga’a, and a 300,000 cubic decametres (240,000 acre⋅ft) water reservation was also created. 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 (Vancouver Island) and Treaty 8 in 1899 (northeastern British Columbia). The land that is owned collectively is under internal pressures from the Nisga'a people to turn it over into a system of individual ownership. This would have an effect on the rest of Canada in regards to First Nations lands.

History

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.

Government

The government bodies of the Nisga'a include the Nisga'a Lisims government, the government of the Nisga'a Nation, and the Nisga'a village governments, one for each of the four Nisga'a villages. The Nisga'a Lisims government is embodied in the wilp Si'Ayuukhl Nisga'a and located in the Nisga's Lisims Government Building in Gitlax̱t'aamiks.

Office English name Nisga’a name Tribe
President Eva Clayton Noxs Ts'imuwa Jiixw Ganada
Secretary-Treasurer Charles Morven Bilaam 'Neeḵhl Ganada
Chairperson Brian Tait Gadim Sbayt Gan Ganada
Chairperson, Council of Elders Herbert Morven K'eex̱kw Laxgibuu
Chief Councillors Claude Barton, Sr, Ging̱olx Maaksgum Gaak Ganada
Don Leeson, Lax̱g̱alts’ap G̱aḵ'etgum Yee Laxgibuu
Elaine Moore, Gitwinksihlkw Daaxheet Ganada
Calvin Morven, Gitlax̱t'aamiks Neexdax Ganada
Nisg̱a'a Urban Local Representatives Andrea Doolan, Ts'amiks – Vancouver Ganim Ts'imaws Gisk'aast
Travis Angus, Ts'amiks – Vancouver Ni'ismiou Laxgibuu
Keith Azak, Gitlax̱dax – Terrace Laxsgiik
Maryanne Stanley, Gitlax̱dax – Terrace Gisk'aast
Clifford Morgan, Gitmax̱maḵ'ay – Prince Rupert/Port Edward Ni'isḴ'anmalaa Ganada
Juanita Parnell, Gitmax̱maḵ'ay – Prince Rupert/Port Edward Laxsgiik

Museum

In 2011 the Nisga'a Museum, a project of the Nisga'a Lisims government, opened in Laxgalts'ap. It contains many historical artifacts of the Nisga'a people returned after many decades in major museums beyond the Nass Valley.

Prominent Nisga’a

  • Jordan Abel, poet.
  • Frank Arthur Calder, Sim'oogit Wii Lisims hereditary chief,treaty negotiator, rights activist, legislator, President emeritus Nisga'a Lisims Government
  • Joseph Gosnell, hereditary chief Sim'oogit Hleek, treaty negotiator, Former President Nisga'a Lisims Government
  • Norman Tait, Hereditary Chief - Sim'oogit G̱awaaḵ of wilp Luuya'as, Master carver
  • Alver Tait, Hereditary Chief - Sim'oogit Luuya'as, Master carver
  • Ron Joseph Telek, of Laxsgiik wilp Luuya'as, carver
  • Alvin A. McKay, hereditary chief, past Daax̱heet of wilp Ax̱dii Wil Luug̱ooda, treaty negotiator, educator
  • William W.D. McKay, hereditary chief, treaty negotiator
  • Dr. Bertram McKay, hereditary chief, Past Ax̱dii wil luu gooda, treaty negotiator, educator
  • Larry McNeil, Tlingit-Nisga'a photographer
  • Da-ka-xeen Mehner, Tlingit-Nisga'a photographer and installation artist, director of the Native Art Center at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks
  • Rodrick Robinson hereditary chief, past Minee'eskw, Treaty Negotiator, ambassador for nisga'a Nation
  • Nelson Leeson Hereditary Chief, Past Ax̱hlawaals, Treaty Negotiator, Former President Nisga'a Lisims Government
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