Tsimshian Society and Culture
Shaman curing a sick boy, Kitwanga, ca. 1910.
The search for supernatural power is a cultural trait common to
most North American Native cultures. Shamans often had survived a
serious illness, thereby gaining the power to heal others.
Shamans were usually called upon for their curing powers after all
known herbal remedies and purification rites (sweat-baths) had
failed. By this time, the patient could be very ill. After making
a preliminary examination, shamans could refuse to treat the
patient, saying their spirit power could not handle that particular
type of illness. In difficult cases, shamans informed the family that
the patient would probably die, but that they were willing to attempt
a cure, as long as it was understood that there was no guarantee of
success. This protected the shamans if the patient died.
Tsimshian healing shamans did not usually wear masks while performing
curing ceremonies. They wore bearskin robes, aprons, and crowns of
grizzly-bear claws. They also used a number of aids, including round
rattles, skin drums, and charms. When shamans fell into a trance, they
called on supernatural powers to cure the sick.