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:
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
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.
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.
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 and went topless. 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.
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.
The Nisga’a people number about 7,000. In British Columbia, the Nisga’a Nation is represented by four villages:
Vancouver - there are approximately 1,500 Nisga'a in Vancouver, and others elsewhere in the Lower Mainland.
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
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.
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.
The government bodies of the Nisgaʼa include the Nisgaʼa Lisims government, the government of the Nisgaʼa Nation, and the Nisgaʼa village governments, one for each of the four Nisgaʼa villages. The Nisgaʼa Lisims government (Nisga'a: Wilp SiʼAyuukhl Nisgaʼa) is located in the Nisgaʼa Lisims Government Building in Gitlax̱tʼaamiks.
Noxs Tsʼimuwa Jiixw
Gadim Sbayt Gan
Chairperson, Council of Elders
Claude Barton, Sr, Ging̱olx
Don Leeson, Lax̱g̱alts’ap
Elaine Moore, Gitwinksihlkw
Calvin Morven, Gitlax̱tʼaamiks
Nisg̱aʼa urban local representatives
Andrea Doolan, Tsʼamiks – Vancouver
Travis Angus, Tsʼamiks – Vancouver
Keith Azak, Gitlax̱dax – Terrace
Maryanne Stanley, Gitlax̱dax – Terrace
Clifford Morgan, Gitmax̱maḵʼay – Prince Rupert/Port Edward
Juanita Parnell, Gitmax̱maḵʼay – Prince Rupert/Port Edward
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.
Morven, Shirley (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.