Archaeological Excavation

Tsimshian Society and Culture

Wealth and Rank
To Honour the Ancestors
Feasts and Potlatches
Men's Activities
Women's Activities

Tsimshian Villages

Tsimshian Society and Culture

Wealth and Rank

To Honour the Ancestors

Walk on, walk on, on the breath of our grandfathers . . .
- The People of 'Ksan

Food Dish - CD94-701-008 - S92-4326 Food dish of cedar, depicting a "Grizzly Bear of the Sea" and a human soul.
Collected by I.W. Powell, 1879; Fort Simpson

Power in Tsimshian society was derived from encounters between the ancestors and spiritual beings that controlled all resources. Depicted on totem poles, clothing and personal items, this link to the primordial source of power was displayed with pride. The encounters were the common element in myth, witnessed histories (adawk) and dramatic performances at feasts. In addition, encounters with the supernatural owners of valuable territories gave families privileged access to economic resources, as well as spiritual power and prestige.

Chief Everyone wore personal adornments, although what people could wear was regulated by daily activity and social rank. Chiefs and their wives and children wore bracelets, labrets (lip plugs), earrings, pendants, and elaborately decorated clothing, as visible symbols of spiritual power and prestige. Certain furs such as ermine and sea otter were only worn by chiefs.

Nobles wore elaborate headdresses and helmets with crest images carved or painted on them. Their ceremonial clothing included woven Chilkat blankets, aprons and leggings. Following the introduction of European woollen cloth, a new type of clothing was made from blue trade blankets, decorated with red-flannel crest designs and pearl buttons.

Wolf Clan Headdress - 
CD94-702-014 - S92-4362 Wolf Clan Headdress
Purchased from Robert William by C.V. Smith, 1925; Gitwangak village, Skeena River