The Tsimshian have a matrilineal kinship system, with a societal structure based on a clan system, properly referred to as a moiety. Descent and property are figured through the maternal line. Hereditary chiefs gained their rights through their maternal line and could be deposed by women elders.
The marriage ceremony was an extremely formal affair, involving several prolonged and sequential ceremonies. Some cultural taboos have related to prohibiting women and men from eating improper foods during and after childbirth.
Like all Northwest Coastal peoples, the Tsimshian harvested the abundant sea life, especially salmon. The Tsimshian became a seafaring people, like the Haida. Salmon continues to be at the center of their nutrition, despite large-scale commercial fishing in the area. Due to this abundant food source, the Tsimshian developed permanent towns. They lived in large longhouses, made from cedar house posts and panels to withstand the wet climate. These were very large, and usually housed an entire extended family.
Tsimshian religion centered on the “Lord of Heaven,” who aided people in times of need by sending supernatural servants to earth to aid them. The Tsimshian believed that charity and purification of the body (either by cleanliness or fasting) was the route to the afterlife.
In common with Northwest Coastal peoples, the Tsimshian engage in the potlatch, which they refer to as the yaawk (feast). Today in Tsimshian culture, the potlatch is held at gatherings to honor deaths, burials, and succession to name-titles.
The Tsimshian have maintained their art and culture, and are working to revitalize use of their language. Historically, the Tsimshian competed with the Tlingit, Haida, the Athapaskan groups in the north and east, and the Wakashan groups in the south.
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