The Nisg̱a’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 word from Tongass Tlingit, where it means "people of the Nass River".[2]

Nisg̱a’a in traditional dress at the dedication of a government building
Total population
5,495 (2016 census)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Canada (British Columbia)
English  Nisga'a

The official languages of Nisg̱a’a are the Nisg̱a’a language and English.[3]

Nisg̱a’a culture


Nisg̱a’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

Traditional cuisine

The Nisg̱a’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 Nisg̱a’a also trade dried fish, seal oil, fish oil, blubber and cedar.

Traditional houses

The traditional houses of the Nisg̱a’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.

Traditional clothing

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 Nass Valley (within the four villages).[4] Another 5,000 Nisg̱a’a live elsewhere in Canada, predominantly within the three urban societies noted in the section below.

Nisg̱a’a villages

The Nisg̱a’a people number about 7,000.[4] In British Columbia, the Nisg̱a’a Nation is represented by four villages:

Nisg̱a’a urban societies

Many Nisg̱a’a people have moved to cities for their opportunities. Concentrations are found in three urban areas outside traditional Nisg̱a’a territory:

Nisg̱a’a calendar/life

The Nisg̱a’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 Nisg̱a’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 Nisg̱a’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 (pertain to majority of British Columbia) and Treaty 8 (pertaining to northeastern British Columbia) . The land that is owned collectively is currently exposed to internal pressures from the Nisg̱a’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.[6]


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 Nisg̱a’a people from poisonous volcanic gases.


The government bodies of the Nisg̱a’a include the Nisg̱a’a Lisims government, the government of the Nisg̱a’a Nation, and the Nisg̱a’a village governments, one for each of the four Nisg̱a’a villages.[7] The Nisg̱a’a Lisims government is embodied in the wilp Si'Ayuukhl Nisg̱a’a and located in the Nisg̱a’a's Lisims Government Building in Gitlax̱t'aamiks.

Office English name Nisga’a name Tribe
President Eva Clayton Noxs Ts'imuwa Jiixw Ganada
Secretary-Treasurer Corrine J. McKay Bilaam 'Neeḵhl Ganada
Chairperson Brian Tait Gadim Sbayt Gan Ganada
Chairperson, Council of Elders Willard Martin Ni'isyuus Gisk'aast
Chief Councillors George Moore, Ging̱olx Maaksgum Gaak Ganada
M. Henry Moore, Lax̱g̱alts’ap G̱aḵ'etgum Yee Laxgibuu
Charles Morven, Gitwinksihlkw Daaxheet Ganada
Keith Tait, Gitlax̱t'aamiks Neexdax Ganada
Nisg̱a'a Urban Local Representatives Sheldon Martin, Ts'amiks – Vancouver Ganim Ts'imaws Gisk'aast
Travis Angus, Ts'amiks – Vancouver Ni'ismiou Laxgibuu
Keith Azak, Gitlax̱dax – Terrace Laxsgiik
Maryanne Stanley, Gitlax̱dax – Terrace Gisk'aast
Clifford Morgan, Gitmax̱maḵ'ay – Prince Rupert/Port Edward Ni'isḴ'anmalaa Ganada
Juanita Parnell, Gitmax̱maḵ'ay – Prince Rupert/Port Edward Laxsgiik


In 2011 the Nisg̱a’a Museum, a project of the Nisg̱a’a Lisims government, opened in Lax̱g̱altsʼap. It contains many historical artifacts of the Nisg̱a’a people returned after many decades in major museums beyond the Nass Valley.

Prominent Nisg̱a’a

See also


  1. "Aboriginal Ancestry Responses (73), Single and Multiple Aboriginal Responses (4), Residence on or off reserve (3), Residence inside or outside Inuit Nunangat (7), Age (8A) and Sex (3) for the Population in Private Households of Canada, Provinces and Territories, 2016 Census - 25% Sample Data". Government of Canada. Retrieved 2017-11-23.
  2. Rigsby, Bruce "Nisga'a Etymology", ms. University of Queensland.
  3. Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution of Nisgaaas (October 1998)
  4. Seigel, Rachel (2018). 2018 book Indigenous Communities in Canada: Nisga'a Nation. 27 Stewart Rd., Collingwood, ON, Canada L9Y 4M7: Beech Street Books. pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-1-77308-189-2.
  5. "Nisga'a Nation Roils as LNG Deal Progresses", Wahmeesh G. Hamilton, The Tyee,, 10 November 2014
  6. Tremonti, Anna Maria (4 November 2013). "This Land is My Land". The Current. CBC Radio One. Retrieved 4 November 2013.
  7. Nisga'a Final Agreement, Government. Retrieved 5 October 2011. Archived 15 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading

  • 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.
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