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This article is about the ethnic group. For their language, see Nisga’a language.
Nisg̱a’a Nation
Autonomous area
Flag of the Nisga'a Nation
Country Canada
Province British Columbia
Nisga'a Final Agreement (Land-claim settlement) 11 May 2000
Capital Gitlax̱t'aamiks (de facto)
Villages Gitlax̱t'aamiks (New Aiyansh), Gitwinksihlkw (Canyon City), Lax̱g̱alts’ap (Greenville), Ging̱olx (Kincolith)
 • Type Nisga'a Lisims Government
 • Body  • Wilp Si’ayuukhl Nisga’a (central legislature, composed of executives from both levels)
 • Central executive
 • Village executives
 • President Mitch Stevens
 • Total 2,000 km2 (800 sq mi)
 • Total 6,000
 • Density 3.0/km2 (7.8/sq mi)
Time zone PST (UTC−8)
 • Summer (DST) PDT (UTC−7)
Postal code prefix V0
Area code 250
Mask with open eyes, worn during winter halait ceremonies, 18th–early 19th century

The Nisga’a /ˈnɪsɡɑː/, often formerly spelled Nishga and spelled in the Nisga’a language as Nisg̱a’a (pronounced [nisqaʔ]), 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 [naːsqaʔ], which is a loan from Tongass Tlingit, where it means "people of the Nass River".[1]

Nisga’a culture[edit]


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:

  • 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 harvested "beach food" all year round. This would include razor clams, mussels, oysters, limpets, scallops, abalone, fish, seaweed and other seafood that could be harvested from the shore. Eating too much beach food was believed to make you sick. However salmon, cod, char, pike, trout and other fresh water fish were harvested in the streams. Men went out in oceangoing canoes to hunt seals, whales, fish and sea otters. The blubber was often traded with other tribes as well as fish oil. Mountain goat, marmot, game birds and more were hunted in the forests. The meat was roasted or boiled. Fish and sea mammals flesh was eaten frozen, boiled or roasted. The heads of a type of cod which were half eaten by sharks were boiled into a soup which kept colds at bay. Dried fish, seal oil, fish oil, blubber and cedar were traded with inland tribes.


Houses of the Nisga’a were rectangular shaped and made of cedar planks. The doors faced the water. The doors were usually decorated with the family crest. Inside, there was a sunken floor which held the hearth and beds and boxes of possessions around the walls. Around three to four families lived in one house. Masks and blankets decorated the walls.


Men wore nothing in the summer and it was normally the best time to hunt and fish. However women wore softened cedar bark skirts and went topless. During the colder season, men wore cedar bark skirts (shaped more like a loincloth), a cape of cedar and a basket hat outside in the rain but wore nothing inside the house. Women wore basket hat and cedar blankets indoors and outdoors. During war, men wore red cedar armour, a cedar helmet and cedar loincloths. They wielded spears, clubs, harpoons, bows and slings. Wicker shields were common. Shell and bone necklaces and bracelets were worn by both sexes. Seal blubber was rubbed into hair and men kept their hair long or in a top knot.

Where they live[edit]

Approximately 2,500 live in the Nass Valley (within the four villages) and another 3,500 Nisga’a live elsewhere in Canada, and around the world (predominantly within the three urban societies).

Nisga’a villages[edit]

The Nisga’a people number about 6,000. In British Columbia, the Nisga’a Nation is represented by four villages:

Nisga’a urban societies[edit]

There are also Nisga’a people residing away from their "home communities" with a large concentration in three urban areas which are not in traditional Nisga’a territory:

Nisga’a calendar/life[edit]

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

Like a Spoon (February/March). This is the traditional time to celebrate the new year, also known as Hoobiyee. (Variations of spelling include: Hobiyee, Hobiiyee, Hoobiiyee)
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.
To Use Canoes Again (April). The ice begins to break on the river, allowing for canoes to be used again
Leaves Are Blooming (May). The leaves begin to flourish once again
Sockeye Salmon (June). Sockeye salmon are harvested
To Eat Berries (July). various berries are harvested
Wii Hoon 
Great Salmon (August). Great amounts of salmon are harvested
Trail of the Marmot (September). Small game such as marmots are hunted
To Eat Trout (October). Trout are the main staple for this month
To Blanket (November). The earth is "Blanketed" with snow
To Sit (December). The sun is sitting in one spot
To Walk North (January). This time of year, the sun begins to go north (K’alii) again
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 square kilometres of land was officially recognized as Nisga’a, and a 300,000-cubic-decameter water reservation was also created. The 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. The land that is owned collectively is currently exposed to 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 native land.[3]


Main article: Tseax Cone

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 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.[4] 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 Clan
President H. Mitchell Stevens Sim’oogit Ḵ’aw’een Laxgibuu
Secretary-Treasurer Corrine J. McKay Bilaam 'Neeḵhl Ganada
Chairperson Kevin McKay Wii Ajiksim Gibaygum X̱sgaak Laxsgiik
Chairperson, Council of Elders D. Shirley Morven Sigidimnaḵ' Ang̱aye'e Laxgibuu
Chief Councillors C. Franklin Alexcee, Ging̱olx Gwooyim Laxgibuu
M. Henry Moore, Lax̱g̱alts’ap G̱aḵ'etgum Yee Laxgibuu
Ron Nyce, Gitwinksihlkw Gilse'n Laxsgiik
Gerald Robinson, Gitlax̱t'aamiks Hlabikskw Laxgibuu
Nisg̱a'a Urban Local Representatives Edna Nyce, Ts'amiks – Vancouver Ksim Gitwilaksnatkw Laxsgiik
Marcia Guno, Ts'amiks – Vancouver Ḵ'amyuuwa'a Laxsgiik
Phyllis Adams, Gitlax̱dax – Terrace Ganada
Martin Adams, Gitlax̱dax – Terrace Sim'oogit Ni'isyoḵ Laxgibuu
Clifford Morgan, Gitmax̱maḵ'ay – Prince Rupert/Port Edward Ni'isḴ'anmalaa Ganada
Juanita Parnell, Gitmax̱maḵ'ay – Prince Rupert/Port Edward Laxsgiik


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[edit]

See also[edit]



  • Barbeau, Marius (1950) Totem Poles. 2 vols. (Anthropology Series 30, National Museum of Canada Bulletin 119.) Ottawa: National Museum of Canada.
  • Boas, Franz, Tsimshian Texts (Nass River Dialect), 1902
  • Boas, Franz, Tsimshian Texts (New Series), [1912]
  • 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.

External links[edit]