Arthur Wellington Clah (1831-1916) is credited with saving the Anglican missionary Reverend Duncan's life when he was held at gunpoint by the highest ranking chief of the Tsimshian. Chief Ligeex of the Gispaxlo'ots tribe was angry that church bells were tolling on the day of his daughers' initiation into a secret society. Clah taught Rev. Duncan how to speak Tsimshian in 1857.

Clah's grandson, William Beynon (1888-1958), was one of the first Tsimshian to become an anthropologist/ethnologist. He contributed greatly to the work of Marius Barbeau and later his own books were published. Benyon was first recognized in ethnographic literature in January of 1915 when Marius Barbeau praised his ability to record myths and generally help his study of the Tsimshian. He was naturally suited for cross-cultural studies as his mother was Tsimshian and his father Welsh.

The first book published by a Tsimshian was From Potlatch to Pulpit in 1933 by William Henry Pierce (1856-1948). He was a member of the Tsimshian nation in British Columbia and the first Tsimshian missionary for the Methodist church. His mother was from the Gispaxclo'ots tribe and died when he was only three weeks old forcing his Scottish Father, Edward Pierce, to seek care for him with William's maternal grandfather. William was raised by him in Tsimshian culture in Port Simpson. He was mentored by Arthur Wellington Clah and witnessed Rev. Duncan being saved by his adopted uncle. He was not converted to Christianity until he heard the preaching of the Methodist missionary Rev. Thomas Crosby while on a trip to Victoria, British Columbia. His missionary activity was his life's vocation and he also worked to suppress native customs like the potlatch and secret societies.

Heber Clifton (1870-1964) was an hereditary chief of the Gitga'ata tribe of the Tsimshian nation of British Columbia, Canada. He was from the Tsimshian community of Hartley Bay, British Colubmia and was of the Gispwudwada or Killerwhale clan. As a child he moved to Rev. William Duncan's mission at Metlakatla in Alaska, but when many Tsimshian migrated to Metlakatla in 1887, he was one of a group of families who moved back to their traditional territories and founded the new community of Hartlely Bay. He and his wife Lucy were married by Rev. Thomas Crosby in 1891. They had a large family of five sons and four daughters. His leadership abilities were recognized early in the twentieth century. He worked all his life in the commercial fishing industry and also worked for Aboriginal rights. He spoke to the McKenna-McBride Commission in 1913 and was one of the founders of the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia. Together with William Benyon they recorded some of the oral traditional knowledge of the Tsimshian. These, including a version of the story of Gwinaxnuusimgyet, have been a remarkable resource for understanding traditional Tsimshian culture.

One great artist who recorded much of Tsimshian culture in his wood carvings and paintings was Frederick Alexcee (1853-1940). His father was Iroquois from eastern Canada and worked with the Hudson Bay Company, and his mother was Tsimshian of the Giluts'aaw tribe from the lower Skeena River area. He was included matrilinially in his mother's lineage in the tribe and also in the Gispwudwada (Killerwhale clan). He was a halaayt carver, which included shamanic practices that were reserved for chiefs. He produced nacnoc or spirit paraphenalia for use in secret society ceremonies. The late nineteenth century missionaries were determined to eradicate these things. Perhaps his ability to produce items for the growing curio trade and his paintings that captured much to Tsimshian culture helped him be successful and eventually end the determination to eradicate indigenous culture. He carved human figures to adorn a baptismal font in Port Simpson's Methodist church.

Reverend Edward Marsden (1869-1932) was the first Alaska Native to be ordained in the ministry. He was born in Metlakatla, British Columbia, and became from his earliest years a protégé of that utopian Christian community's founder, the charismatic Anglican lay minister William Duncan. Duncan exercised fierce control over his parishioners' lives and for a while barred the young, ambitious Marsden from leaving the island to pursue higher education. Eventually, the Presbyterian missionary Sheldon Jackson intervened and persuaded Duncan to let Marsden join him in Sitka, Alaska, to attend the industrial school there. Jackson arranged for Marsden to attend the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania and then Marietta College in Ohio, making him the first Alaska Native to receive higher education in the "lower 48." During his education there, he joined the Presbyterian Church, deepening his schism with Duncan. In 1894 he became a U.S. citizen, the first Alaska Native to do so. He attended Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio, from which he graduated in 1898, becoming ordained the same year. Also, in 1897 he became the first North American Indian to be licensed to preach in the U.S. When Duncan refused Marsden's suggestion that a Presbyterian church be established on Annette Island to minister to the Tlingit families there, he was installed as minister at a Tlingit community near Ketchikan. There he participated in a fierce rivalry with Duncan for Tsimshian loyalties, including participating in a campaign to have Duncan removed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). His complaints, and those of many in the community, focused on Duncan's control over the community's entire economic life and his opposition to his flock's seeking any economic or educational betterment off of the island.

The push toward utilizing the governments of the countries the Tsimshian inhabited is most characterized by Peter Simpson (1871?-1947). He was a Canadian-born Tsimshian activist for Alaska Native rights, growing up on the Alaskan side as a member of the Gispwudwada (Killerwhale clan). He was related to Reverend Edward Marsden. He invested in a sawmill as well as being active in the fishing industry. In 1912, Simpson became chairman of the committee that eventually formed the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB), and was the only non-Tlingit member. He is considered the father of the ANB and also "the father of Land Claims" in Alaska, the long process that led to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (without Metlakatla's participation, interestingly), long after his death. He and his wife, a Tlingit named Mary Sloan, raised 15 children.


  1. ↑ Lyle Campbell, American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997, ISBN 9780195094275), 396.
  2. ↑ Kitsumkalum and the Tsimshian Treaty Process, Kitsumkalum Treaty Office. Retrieved December 15, 2007.
  3. ↑ Treaty Commission Annual Report 2001, BC Treaty Commission Retrieved December 15, 2007.
  4. ↑ William Zimmer, Taking Time for a Look At Art in the Open, The New York Times May 23, 1999. Retrieved December 18, 2007.
  5. ↑ Marianne Meadahl, Totem blessing begins restoration, Simon Fraser University, SFU News Online. November 1, 2007. Retrieved December 18, 2007.


  • Barbeau, Marius. Totem Poles. 2 vols. (Anthropology Series 30, National Museum of Canada Bulletin 119.) Ottawa: National Museum of Canada, 1950. ISBN 0660129027
  • Beattie, William Gilbert. Marsden of Alaska. New York, NY: Vantage Press, 1955. ASIN B000KUNULQ
  • Boas, Franz. "Tsimshian Mythology" in Thirty-First Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1909-1910. 29-1037. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1916.
  • Campbell, Lyle. American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0195140507
  • Garfield, Viola. "Tsimshian Clan and Society" in University of Washington Publications in Anthropology, 7(3) (1939):167-340.
  • Garfield, Viola E. and Paul S. Wingert. The Tsimshian Indians and Their Arts. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1951, 1966. ISBN 0295740426
  • Halpin, Marjorie M. and Margaret Seguin. "Tsimshian Peoples: Southern Tsimshian, Coast Tsimshian, Nishga, and Gitksan" in Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7: Northwest Coast, edited by Wayne Suttles. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1990. 267-284. ISBN 052157109X
  • Miller, Jay. Tsimshian Culture: A Light through the Ages. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1997. ISBN 0803282664
  • Miller, Jay, and Carol Eastman, (eds.). The Tsimshian and Their Neighbors of the North Pacific Coast. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1984. ISBN 978-0295961262
  • Neylan, Susan. The Heavens Are Changing: Nineteenth-Century Protestant Missions and Tsimshian Christianity. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0773525733
  • Seguin, Margaret. Interpretive Contexts for Traditional and Current Coast Tsimshian Feasts. Ottawa: National Museums of Canada, 1985. ASIN B0006EK5I2
  • Seguin, Margaret. The Tsimshian: Images of the Past, Views for the Present. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1984. ISBN 978-0774804738

External links

All links retrieved September 30, 2011.

  • A Comprehensive Look at the Pacific Northwest Coast
  • Alaskan Tlingit and Tsimshian - Essay by Jay Miller
  • map of Northwest Coast First Nations - (including Tsimshian)
  • Eyak, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian
  • Tsimshian Language (Smalgyax)
  • David Boxley, Northwest Coast Tsimshian Artist