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The Gitlaan are one of the 14 tribes of the Tsimshian nation in British Columbia, Canada, and one of the nine of those tribes making up the "Nine Tribes" of the lower Skeena River resident at Lax Kw'alaams (a.k.a. Port Simpson), B.C. The name Gitlaan means literally "people of the Stern Canoe." Their traditional territory includes the watershed of the Zimacord River, a tributary of the Skeena River. An area of the riverbank there resembled from the distance a canoe-stern, hence the name of the tribe. (The Zimacord watershed is also claimed by the Kitsumkalum Tsimshians.) Since 1834, the Gitlaan have been based at Lax Kw'alaams, when a Hudson's Bay Company fort was established there.

In 1887, the great majority of the Gitlaan tribe moved from Lax Kw'alaams and Metlakatla, B.C., with the Anglican lay minister William Duncan to found the new community of "New" Metlakatla, Alaska. However, a small Gitlaan contingent remained behind in B.C.

In the absence, though, of surviving members in Lax Kw'alaams of the House of Gwiskyaan, the royal line that traditionally had provided successors to the chieftainship of the Gitlaan tribe, a Nisga'a family from a related Laxgibuu (Wolf clan) house-group (extended matrilineal family) moved to Lax Kw'alaams to become the new royal house of the Gitlaan (this occurring, then, some time between 1887 and 1913). This matriline included or came to include sons of the Gispaxlo'ots house-chief and Hudson's Bay Company employee Arthur Wellington Clah, including Albert Wellington, who served as chief of the Gitlaan with the name Gwisk'aayn until his death in 1913. Wellington's sister's son, William Beynon, who was to become the renowned ethnologist, moved from Victoria, B.C., to Lax Kw'alaams at that time to preside over Wellington's funerary rites and assume the title Gwisk'aayn and with it the chieftainship of the Gitlaan, in accordance with Tsimshian rules of matrilineal succession, though there was initial opposition based on the fact that Beynon had become "enfranchised" as a Canadian citizen (and was thus no longer, in the law's eyes, "Indian"). Beynon was chief of the Gitlaan until his death in 1958.

The name Niisłaganuus has since been restored to use in replacement of Gwiskyaan. Chief Niisłaganuus was Henry Helin, then Henry's son Barry Helin (father of the author Calvin Helin), and presently Barry's nephew Randy Dudoward Sr.

In 1935 William Beynon recorded that Gitlaan people in Lax Kw'alaams included 4 members of the Gispwudwada (Killerwhale clan), 8 member of the Ganhada (Raven), and 9 members of the Laxgibuu (Wolf), each clan being represented by only one house-group.

Prominent Gitlaans[edit]

Henry Helin, Sm'ooygit Barry Helin, Sm'ooygit

Rev. William Soloman White, the first Sm'algyax speaking reverend. House of Gwiskyaan.


  • Anderson, Margaret, and Marjorie Halpin (2000) "Introduction" to Potlatch at Gitsegukla: William Beynon's 1945 Field Notebooks, ed. by Margaret Anderson and Marjorie Halpin, pp. 3–52. Vancouver: UBC Press.
  • Beynon, William (1941) "The Tsimshians of Metlakatla, Alaska." American Anthropologist (new series), vol. 43, pp. 83–88
  • Garfield, Viola E. (1939) "Tsimshian Clan and Society." University of Washington Publications in Anthropology, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 167–340.
  • Halpin, Marjorie M. (1978) "William Beynon, Ethnographer, Tsimshian, 1888-1958." In American Indian Intellectuals: 1976 Proceedings of the American Ethnological Society, ed. by Margot Liberty, pp. 140–156. St. Paul: West Publishing Company.
  • Helin, Calvin (2006) Dances with Dependency: Indigenous Success through Self-Reliance. Vancouver: Orca Spirit Publishing and Communications.
  • McDonald, James A. (1983) "An Historic Event in the Political Economy of the Tsimshian: Information on the Ownership of the Zimacord District." B.C. Studies, no. 57, pp. 24–37.