The Nisga’a, often formerly spelled Nishga and spelled in the Nisga’a language as Nisg̱a’a, 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”.
Nisga’a society is organized into four tribes:
Gisḵ’aast (Killer Whale)
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 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 Nisga′a also trade dried fish, seal oil, fish oil, blubber and cedar.
The traditional houses of the Nisga’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.
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.
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